Rewriting human history: Fossils discovered in Israel suggest earlier departure from Africa

  • Rewriting human history: Fossils discovered in Israel suggest earlier departure from Africa

Rewriting human history: Fossils discovered in Israel suggest earlier departure from Africa

It had been believed for quite some time that modern humans first appeared in East Africa around 200,000 years ago.

Archaeologists discovered the jawbone in 2002 in the Misliya Cave along the western slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel.

Researchers dug up the fossil in a cave near the coastal city of Haifa and used dating technology to determine that it belonged to a living human between 177,000-194,000 years ago.

"We have the pre-molars, the molars, the canine, and we have the lateral incisor", says Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University who was part of the team that studied the fossil. The researchers published their findings Thursday in the journal Science. Last year, a team announced that fossils thought to be early versions of Homo sapiens in Morocco had been dated to about 315,000 years ago.

The oldest human fossils ever found outside Africa suggest that Homo sapiens might have spread to the Arabian Peninsula around 180,000 years ago - much earlier than previously thought.

Dr Maria McNamara, senior lecturer in palaeontology at UCC, said: "This discovery is very exciting, as the fossil is nearly twice as old as what were previously the oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans outside of Africa, and is consistent with other recently published evidence that there were multiple waves of migration of modern humans out of Africa; not just a single pulse around 60,000 years ago". The study notes that recent discoveries in Asia have pushed back the date of modern humans' appearance in the region and as a result, backdating their migration from Africa as well.

Professor Quam said that it meant that modern humans had ample opportunity to interact with other species of ancient humans.

"Our species", Hershkovitz added, "is a genetic mishmash of several hominins". Moreover, at the Ethiopian sites of Omo and Herto, scientists discovered fossils about 195,000 and 160,000 years old, respectively, that the researchers suggested were H. sapiens. Other finds indicate that our species began colonizing far-flung lands well before 60,000 years ago, reaching China by perhaps 120,000years ago, Indonesia as early as 73,000 years ago and Australia by 65,000 years ago. "It provides the clearest evidence yet that our ancestors first migrated out of Africa much earlier than we previously believed".

"We are now realizing that it was not one big exodus out of Africa in a given time period", said Dr. Hershkovitz. It's incredible, though, that after all this time, we can still piece together some of the long-lost history of our species' most epic journey.

Researchers discovered a jawbone in the Mount Carmel region of Israel. The find may have implications for when and how our species arose, and how many waves of early humans left Africa.

"What I was surprised by was how well this new discovery fits into the new picture that's emerging of the evolution of Homo sapiens", said Julia Galway-Witham, a research assistant at the Natural History Museum in London, who wrote an accompanying perspective article.

The technique involves chipping away at fragments of stone to form tools, and has been documented in early human specimens found in Africa. "Actually, they were not migrants at all, but rather descendants of the Misliya people". One of Bar-Yosef's research areas is molluscs, and, she says, the presence of mollusc shells at the site is consistent with what has been found among modern human remains at other Middle Paleolithic sites. "This is early humans doing exactly that".