MADRID – Homo sapiens originated in Africa between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago, but knowing when our species began to spread elsewhere is a complex puzzle still in the building stage.
Now, the oldest fossil ever found outside of Africa, along with human-made stone tools – in a cave in Israel – moves the chronology for that dispersal 60,000 years farther back in time.
The paleoanthropological study of the fossil, headed by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, with the collaboration of Spanish researchers from the UCM-ISCIII Center for Evolution and Human Behavior at the National Center for Research and Human Evolution (CENIEH) and the Catalan Institute for Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), was published on Thursday in Science magazine.
To date, the available research had led scientists to think that our species had remained exclusively on the African continent until about 120,000 years ago, when modern man ventured northwards into the Near East.
However, this human fossil, found in Israel’s Misliya Cave, “is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old,” meaning that modern man left Africa some 60,000 years before the heretofore accepted date, IPHES researcher and co-author of the study Carlos Lorenzo told EFE.
Israel is an important region for Paleolithic studies because it is a natural corridor between Africa and Eurasia.
“From ... the Near East, humans began to disperse, first eastward to Asia (about 100,000 years ago) and then westward, to Europe, some 45,000 years ago,” the paleontologist said.
Scientists used virtual 3D models and computerized tomographs to study the fossil, allowing them to analyze the internal anatomy of the jawbone fragment with all its corresponding teeth without using invasive techniques.
Lorenzo said that it is definitely a Homo sapiens jawbone – and not Neanderthal – because of the shape and proportions of the teeth and belonged to a hunter-gatherer between 20-30 years old.