Sunday, 25 Feb 2018 - 10 of Adar, 5778

Mount Carmel discovery rocks understanding of ancient humans

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JERUSALEM—A jawbone discovered in 2002 at the Misliya cave on Mount Carmel has been found to be the oldest human remain found outside of Africa and completely changes scientific understanding of the development of Homo Sapiens, according to a study to be published Friday in the prestigious ‘Science’ journal.

An international team of 30 experts from around the world, led by Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa, studied the jawbone for the last five years and their findings suggest that modern humans left Africa and arrived in the Levant not 100.000 years ago, as scientists had  previously believed, but at least 100,000 years earlier.

“If the fossil at Misliya dates to roughly 200,000 years ago, the entire narrative of the evolution of Homo Sapiens must be pushed back by at least 100,000-200,000 years,” says Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine who led the research team in collaboration with Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. “In other words, if modern humans started traveling out of Africa some 200,000 years ago, it follows that they must have originated in Africa at least 300,000-500,000 years ago,” he added.

Until now, the common consensus of anthropologists has been that modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 160,000-200,000 years ago, based on fossils found in Ethiopia, and that modern humans evolved in Africa and started migrating out of Africa around 100,000 years ago.

About a year ago, scientists reported finding the remains of modern humans in China dating about 80,000-100,000 years ago. The findings suggested that the migration of Homo Sapiens from Africa occurred earlier than previously thought, but scientists were unable to explain the earlier migration.

Hershkovitz  says that the Israeli-led study sheds light on the China finding as well.

“Our research makes sense of many recent anthropological and genetic finds,” Hershkovitz said. “About a year ago, scientists reported finding the remains of modern humans in China dating to about 80,000-100,000 years ago. This suggested that their migration occurred earlier than previously thought, but until our discovery at Misliya, we could not explain it.

“Numerous different pieces of the puzzle – the occurrence of the earliest modern human in Misliya, evidence of genetic mixture between Neanderthals and humans, modern humans in China, now fall into place,”  he observed.

“All of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, but some features resemble those found in the remains of Neanderthals and other human groups. This suggests that, while Africa was the origin of our species, some of our traits must have evolved or been acquired outside of Africa.” Hershkovitz said.

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