The discovery of a 55,000-year-old partial skull in Northern Israel provides new insights into the migration of modern humans out of Africa. The rare find is reported in the journal Nature this week by an international team of Israeli, North American and European researchers.
A key event in human evolution was the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia, replacing all other forms of hominin (humans and their predecessors), around 40,000-60,000 years ago. However, due to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations have largely remained a mystery.
Descending into the Manot Cave in Israel’s Galilee, where a 55,000-year-old skull sheds new light on human migration patterns. (Photo: Amos Frumkin / Hebrew University Cave Research Center)
Now, researchers describe a partial skull that dates to around 55,000, which was found at Manot Cave in Israel’s Western Galilee. The Manot Cave was discovered in 2008 during construction activities that damaged its roof. Rock falls and active stalagmites had apparently blocked the initial entrance to the cave for at least 15,000 years. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Cave Research Center conducted an initial survey of the cave and reported the findings of archaeological remains.
Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University led the anthropological study of the skull, and led the excavation together with archaeologists Dr. Ofer Marder of Ben-Gurion University, and Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The skull has a distinctive “bun”-shaped occipital region at the back. In this way its shape resembles modern African and European skulls, but differs from other anatomically modern humans from the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans that later colonized Europe.
The specimen also provides evidence that both modern humans and Neanderthals inhabited the southern Levant during the late Pleistocene, close in time to the likely interbreeding event between modern humans and Neanderthals.
Researchers from the Hebrew University played important roles in this discovery. Dating the skull at around 55,000 years is the graduate thesis work of Gal Yasur, a student at the Hebrew University’s Earth Sciences Institute in the Faculty of Sciences. The dating work was done at the Geological Survey of Israel under the supervision of GSI Senior Scientists Dr. Miryam Bar-Matthews and Dr. Avner Ayalon, together with Prof. Alan Matthews, the Raymond F. Kravis Professor of Geology at the Hebrew University’s Earth Sciences Institute. Prof. Amos Frumkin, Director of the Cave Research Center at the Hebrew University’s Geography Department, researched the geological context of the skull in the Manot Cave. Ms. Mae Goder-Goldberger, a doctoral candidate at Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, is part of the archaeological team working in the cave.
This finding represents the first fossil evidence from the critical period when genetic and archaeological models predict that African modern humans successfully migrated out of Africa and colonized Eurasia. It also represents the first fossil evidence that during the late Middle Paleolithic, the Levant was occupied not only by Neanderthals but also by modern humans.
The researchers suggest that the population from which this skull is derived had recently migrated out of Africa and established itself in the Levantine corridor during a time span that was favorable for human migration, due to warmer and wetter climatic events over the Northern Sahara and the Mediterranean.
The research appears in the journal Nature under the title “Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans" (DOI 10.1038/nature14134).
The excavation at Manot Cave was initiated and supported throughout the years by the late Mr. Dan David, founder of the “Dan David Prize”, and his son Mr. Ariel David. The ongoing research is financially supported by the Dan David Foundation, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), the Leakey Foundation, the Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation, the Keren Kayemet L’Israel (JNF) and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF). Radiocarbon dating research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Exilarch's Foundation and the MPS-WI Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology.
For information or interviews, contact:
Hebrew University Foreign Press Liaison
02-5882844 / +972-54-8820860
Dov Smith | Hebrew University
Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology