A team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority reported in the new issue of Nature Magazine “one of the most important discoveries in the study of human evolution”. The matter in question is a 55, 000 year old anatomically modern human skull that was found in the Dan David-Manot Cave in the Western Galilee.
This rare skull constitutes the earliest fossilized evidence outside of Africa indicating that today’s human population originated in Africa and emigrated from there c. 65, 000 years ago. According to the researchers, the discovery sheds light on one of the most dramatic periods in human evolution: the appearance of modern man as we know him today.
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The study of the skull from the Dan David-Manot Cave is a joint undertaking of the Tel Aviv University, Israel Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, headed by Professor Israel Hershkovitz, Dr Omri Barzilai and Dr. Ofer Marder, and funded by the Dan David Foundation, Israel Academy of Sciences, Irene Levi Sala Foundation, Leakey Foundation and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The research picture regarding the origin of modern man is now becoming clear following the discovery of a modern human calvarium from Manot Cave. Manot Cave is an active karstic cave (stalactite cave) that was discovered by chance in the Western Galilee in 2008 when it was damaged by a bulldozer during development work. The cave is located 40 kilometers northeast of the famous prehistoric sites in the Carmel caves.
To date, five excavation seasons (2010–2014) have been conducted in the cave on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, during which an impressive archaeological sequence was documented that yielded remains of several prehistoric cultures.
The Manot skull was found on a raised bedrock ledge in a small hall in the center of the cave. Both its inner and outer surfaces were covered with cave deposits that were dated by means of uranium-thorium to 55, 000 YBP. A morphometric analysis of the skull shows it is that of a modern human being with similarities to modern skulls from Africa on the one hand and the ancient skulls of modern humans from Europe on the other.
The study involved researchers from the Geological Survey of Israel, Weizmann Institute of Science, Hebrew University, University of Haifa, University of Vienna, Harvard University, Case-Western University, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Columbia University and Simon Fraser University.