This jawbone fossil proves humans left Africa a lot earlier than we thought
As we go further back in time, it becomes harder and harder to be accurate with our timings. Accuracy to the hour turns to the day, and the day turns to the year before the year becomes a vague era. Previous fossil finds have suggested our Homo sapien ancestors left Africa and began the long game of world domination around 125,000 years ago. There’s now a spanner in the works of that theory – a jawbone-shaped spanner.
This human jawbone was found in Misliya cave – a prehistoric site found on the western side of Mount Carmel in Israel. As you can see from the picture above, it has eight teeth still embedded within it and isn’t the prettiest specimen – but it’s good enough for a number of dating techniques show the fossil is 175,000-200,000 years old. In other words, it proves our previous estimates of when the first humans left Africa are at least 50,000 years off.
“Misliya is an exciting discovery,” explained Binghamton University’s Professor Rolf Quam, a co-author of the study. “It provides the clearest evidence yet that our ancestors first migrated out of Africa much earlier than we previously believed. It also means that modern humans were potentially meeting and interacting during a longer period of time with other archaic human groups, providing more opportunity for cultural and biological exchanges.” Biological exchanges – if it wasn’t clear – is a euphemistic way of discussing early man’s mating patterns.
It’s worth remembering that our ancestors – the Homo sapiens – weren’t the only species of human wandering the globe at this time. Other, now extinct, strains were prevalent in different regions: Neanderthals were in Europe, and Homo erectus was in the middle east around 500,000 years ago. Homo sapiens were still late to the party, just not as late as we thought.
“While all of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, some features are also found in Neanderthals and other human groups,” Quam continued. “One of the challenges in this study was identifying features in Misliya that are found only in modern humans. These are the features that provide the clearest signal of what species the Misliya fossil represents.”
The jawbone wasn’t the only notable discover in the Misliya caves: the archaeologists also discovered fire use and some advanced tools – including a stone cut with the Levallois technique (a type of flint knapping). This not only shows the early humans in the region were solid hunters but also suggests that they may have been around even earlier than the jawbone proves, given nearby Levallois tools had been dated at around 190,000 and 260,000 years old.
The study was published in Science.
Gerhard Weber, University of Vienna