An ancient jawbone found in Israel rewrites the history of Homo sapiens

It shows humans left Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than we had thought.

In 2002, a team of archaeologists digging on a site called Misliya on Mount Carmel in Israel discovered the fossilized remains of a human jaw. But several question the dates on the fossil itself, partly because the authors write that the jawbone was scanned using computerized tomography three times, and the x-rays could have influenced the amount of radiation trapped in the tooth enamel, skewing the luminescence dates.

Hershkovitz explains: "This finding-that early modern humans were present outside of Africa earlier than commonly believed-completely changes our view on modern human dispersal and the history of modern human evolution". The research was published today in Science, and if it holds true, then humanity's story just got a lot more complex. Several dating techniques applied to archaeological materials and the fossil itself suggest the jawbone is between 175,000-200,000 years old, pushing back the modern human migration out of Africa by at least 50,000 years.

But the Misliya fossil also has researchers theorizing that modern humanity evolved alongside - intermingling with - other hominin groups, such as Neanderthals, Hershkovitz told the Times.

That suggests some modern human features evolved outside Africa, or were maybe even acquired from other species, the researchers said.

This is much earlier than the generally accepted 200,000-year date for the origin of our species, which is based on genetic studies and fossil finds such as the 195,000-year-old Omo remains from Ethiopia. Previous research suggested the exodus from Africa started between 70,000 and 40,000 years ago.

A fossil discovery in a cave in Israel provides evidence that the oldest-known homo sapiens left Africa, where our species is thought to have originated, far earlier than scientists previously thought. Shea notes that from the standpoint of climate and environment, Israel and its neighbors were, in essence, a part of Africa, harboring mostly the same kinds of animals.

However, this is not the first time that researchers discovered evidence of human fossils. However, the scientists added that the shapes of the teeth clearly show that they belong to the modern human lineage as opposed to the Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans.

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the oldest fossil of a modern human outside Africa. The jawbone represents an interim step in the migration from Africa to Asia and fits in a more expansive timeline of human evolution that scientists are starting to adopt as the true historical record.

The tools found alongside Misliya-1 use a flint-knapping technique called "Levallois", which is a pretty sophisticated way to make stone tools.

Analysis of the jaw itself was made with 3-D geometric morphometric analysis (micro-computed tomography), which indicated the remains were most similar to modern humans, and most dissimilar to Neanderthals and other ancient hominids, they report.

Besides the skull fragment, the Misliya Cave site in Israel also contained a series of tools associated with the Levallois technique-a stone toolmaking common to early humans. "This is early humans doing exactly that".

Of all the human species that have ever lived, only one, Homo sapiens, conquered the entire planet.

The team had long known that ancient people lived in the Misliya Cave, which is a rock shelter with an overhanging ceiling carved into a limestone cliff.

  • Aubrey Nash