This jawbone found in an Israeli cave has changed anthropologists' understanding of the migration of modern humans out of Africa. Photo courtesy of Tel Aviv University
Remains of Earliest Human Outside Africa Found in Israel
Author: Israel 21c Staff
Discovery of jawbone pushes back history of Homo sapiens migration by at least 50,000 years and rewrites history, Israeli researchers say
The prehistoric jawbone was determined to be at least 170,000 years old. Photo courtesy of Tel Aviv University Turning back the clock
A jawbone complete with teeth recently discovered at Israel's Misliya cave has now been dated roughly to between 177,000 and 194,000 years ago — indicating that modern humans were present in the Levant at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought.
"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," says Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
Hershkovitz led the international team of 35 anthropologists who conducted the study in collaboration with Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. The research was published (https://youtu.be/RAGcDi0DRtU) January 26 in the journal Science.
The common consensus of anthropologists has been that modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 160,000 to 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.
Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the University of Haifa. Photo: courtesy
The research team discovered the fossil, an adult upper jawbone with several teeth, at the Misliya cave in Israel, one of several prehistoric cave sites located on Mount Carmel.
The scientists applied various dating techniques to the fossil to determine that the jawbone is at least 170,000 years old. They also analyzed the remains using microCT scans and 3D virtual models to compare it with other hominin fossils discovered in parts of Africa, Europe and Asia.
"If the fossil at Misliya dates to roughly 170,000 to 190,000 years ago, the entire narrative of the evolution of Homo sapiens must be pushed back by at least 100,000 to 200,000 years," Hershkovitz said.
"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 to 500,000 years ago."
Until now, the earliest remains of a modern human found outside of Africa, at the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel, were dated to 90,000 to 120,000 years ago.
"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 to 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.
According to Weinstein-Evron, the inhabitants of Misliya cave were capable hunters of large game species such as aurochs, Persian fallow deer and gazelles. They routinely used fire, made wide use of plants and produced an Early Middle Paleolithic stone tool kit, employing sophisticated innovative techniques, similar to those found with the earliest modern humans in Africa.
The association of the Misliya jawbone with such evolved technologies in the Levant suggests that their emergence is linked to the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, said Weinstein-Evron.
It is known that the Middle East was a major corridor for hominin migrations, occupied at different times by both modern humans and Neanderthals, but the new discovery at Misliya suggests an earlier demographic replacement or genetic admixture with local populations than previously thought.
"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," said Hershkovitz.
In addition to Israelis from Tel Aviv University, University of Haifa and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, participating scientists are from Australia, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom and United States.
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Water pollution: Tiny piece of paper can make water safer to drink
A MICROBIAL-based paper sensor that can detect toxic compounds in water has been developed by scientists.
Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo with a microbial-based paper sensor that can detect toxic compounds in water
Researchers from the University of Bath, who developed the device, say it is cheap, sustainable and recyclable.
The technology was inspired by the simplicity of litmus paper – commonly used for the rapid assessment of acidity in water.
It consists of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) obtained by screen printing biodegradable carbon electrodes on to a single piece of paper.
An MFC is a device that uses the natural biological processes of so-called electric bacteria, which are attached to the carbon electrodes to generate an electric signal.
This type of research will have a significant positive impact, especially benefiting those areas where access to even basic analytic tools is prohibitive
Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo
When these bacteria are exposed to polluted water, a change in the electric signal occurs – providing a warning message that the water is unsafe to drink.
The device, which researchers say is expected to cost no more than £1, is environmentally friendly as the paper sensor is made from biodegradable components.
It weighs less than 1g, so is easy to transport.
Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, senior lecturer at the University of Bath's Department of Chemical Engineering, said: "This work could lead to a revolutionary way of testing water at the point of use, which is not only green, easy to operate and rapid, but also affordable to all.
Researchers are now investigating how to link up the sensor with an electric device such as a mobile
"This type of research will have a significant positive impact, especially benefiting those areas where access to even basic analytic tools is prohibitive.
"This device is a small step in helping the world realise the United Nations' call to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right."
Access to safe drinking water is one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
The researchers are now investigating how to link up the sensor with an electric device such as a mobile phone, via a wireless transmitter.
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This could create a user-friendly way of identifying if a water supply is safe to use.
Dr Janet Scott, reader in the University of Bath's Department of Chemistry, said: "This is a great example of how scientists and engineers working closely together can develop useful technologies with the potential to impact positively on the lives of citizens globally – we were able to design the materials that facilitated the production of these devices and the engineering partners designed the devices."
The project was led by researchers in the University of Bath's Water Innovation & Research Centre and Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies.
It also involved researchers from the University of Bath's Department of Mechanical Engineering and a partnership with the Brazilian Nanotechnology National Laboratory in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
This research received funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.