The jawbone, dated to between 177,000 and 194,000 years ago, suggests Homo sapiens was already leaving Africa through the Middle East and populating the rest of the globe at a time when, according to previous research, modern humans were thought to be barely taking their first evolutionary steps in their ancestral home in East Africa.
“It’s really something different,” says archaeologist Prof. Mina Evron from Israel’s University of Haifa, which conducted the dig jointly with Tel Aviv University.
Evron says the upper left jawbone, complete with eight well-preserved teeth, was first discovered in 2002 in Misliya Cave – one of several prehistoric sites that dot the cliffs of the Carmel mountain range near the northern city of Haifa.
The international team of more than 30 experts – including top paleontologists from Spain, China and other countries – took so many years to study the find partly to make sure the dating was right, since it went against everything they knew about human evolution, she explains.
Until recently, most scholars would have agreed that modern Homo sapiens first appeared some 200,000 years ago in East Africa, based on remains found at Omo, Ethiopia, during the 1960s and ’70s.
According to genetic research, these ancestral humans emerged from Africa around 70,000 to 60,000 years ago, occasionally interbreeding with Neanderthals and other hominids as they dispersed throughout the world.
Researchers are still convinced all people alive today are the descendants of those final “out of Africa” migrants. But what seems clear now is that Homo sapiens evolved much earlier than previously thought, leaving Africa in multiple waves and frequently having sex with other hominid populations along the way.
“The moment you say there is modern Homo sapiens in Israel between 170,000 to 200,000 years ago, suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place,” says Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, a physical anthropologist at Tel Aviv University and lead researcher on the Science paper.
The find at Misliya Cave makes sense in light of several discoveries that have been made over the last couple of years and that have already suggested that the traditional “out of Africa” paradigm needed to be reviewed, Hershkovitz says.
Those discoveries include last year’s announcement that remains found at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, had been identified as early Homo sapiens and dated to 300,000 years ago – some 100,000 years before our supposedly earliest ancestors from Ethiopia.
Researchers had also previously uncovered 47 human teeth in a cave in Daoxian, China, that were around 100,000 years old, meaning that Homo sapiens reached the Far East tens of thousands of years before that supposedly unique exodus from Africa.
Over the last year, geneticists have also been showing how our prehistory is much more complex than we believed. One study suggested that some human populations still carry traces in their DNA of those early migrations. And research conducted on Neanderthal DNA found that at some point between 220,000 and 460,000 years ago, an archaic Homo sapiens population interbred with at least part of the Neanderthal lineage.
Since at that time Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were supposed to have been confined to their respective stomping grounds in Europe and Africa, there was clearly a piece missing from the history of our evolution.
Enter the Misliya jawbone. Scientists used three different methods – Uranium-thorium, electron-spin resonance and thermoluminescence – to date the concretions found on the bone, the teeth and the archaeological layers in which the jawbone was found. All methods gave similar ranges, Hershkovitz says.
‘Oldest bed ever found’
Tools and artifacts, sealed in with the bone when the roof of the cave collapsed some 160,000 years ago, also confirm that we are dealing with modern humans, says Evron.
“The flint tools are much more complex and developed than what was made in previous periods,” she notes. “And we also uncovered microscopic fragments of grass bedding – which may be the oldest bed ever found.”
Although archaeologists sometimes nickname the find “Miss Liya,” after the name of the cave where the jawbone was discovered, we know very little about the individual to whom it belonged, except that she, or he, was a young adult, Hershkovitz says. However, by any parameter the researchers could check – the morphology of the bone, the floor of the nose and the teeth – it is clear that these are not the remains of a Neanderthal or any other type of hominid except Homo sapiens. In fact, Hershkovitz says, Miss Liya’s jawbone is much more similar to that of modern man than older or nearly contemporaneous African remains like those found at Jebel Irhoud and Omo.
“You could say that it’s not just the oldest Homo sapiens outside of Africa, it’s the oldest Homo sapiens there is, period,” Hershkovitz adds. “The fossils found in Africa still had many archaic traits, but here we are talking about fully modern people, not Jebel Irhoud, not Omo.”
Whether the evolution from archaic to modern sapiens happened while the ancestors of Miss Liya were still in Africa or once they had already settled in the Middle East is hard to say right now, because we don’t yet have enough human remains from both areas to be sure, Hershkovitz notes.
Another key question is how the newly arrived humans from Africa interacted with preexisting hominids that inhabited the Middle East.
“We need to remember that when humans arrived here 200,000 years ago, it was not a vacuum – there were already people around,” Hershkovitz says.
The answer to what happened next may come from remains found nearly a century ago in the Qafzeh and Skhul caves, also in northern Israel and dated to around 100,000 years ago. These too could have served as an early indicator for researchers that humans had been leaving Africa much earlier than thought, but for a long time the finds were dismissed as a small foray by a group of archaic sapiens who quickly went extinct. Now, though, it looks more likely that the remains at Qafzeh and Skhul were the distant descendants of those early inhabitants of Misliya.
What is particularly interesting is that though Miss Liya’s jawbone is nearly 100,000 years older, it is much closer to contemporary human morphology than the skulls found at Qafzeh and Skhul, which display several archaic traits even though they belong to the Homo sapiens family, Hershkovitz notes.
This can only mean that, over time, the people of Misliya mated and integrated with the Neanderthals or other hominids inhabiting the area, Hershkovitz adds.
After Qafzeh and Skhul, we lose track of this lineage of early out-of-Africa humans living in the Middle East. It is possible they went extinct due to environmental or climatic pressures. But also, some of them may have returned to Africa, mixing in with the populations that would make the next and last big push out of the continent, some 70,000 years ago, Hershkovitz explains.
“We always talk about an exit from Africa, never about a return,” he concludes. “In a way, the expression ‘Out of Africa’ is incorrect, because of course it was a two-way street. There is no reason to think there wasn’t constant movement in both directions.”
Homo Naledi, Newly Discovered Species
In 2017, geologists demonstrated that this species, Homo naledi, existed in southern Africa between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago–potentially the same time that modern humans first emerged in Africa. This is a puzzle to scientists, who long held that there was only one species in Africa at this late time period – Homo sapiens. How did this species exist alongside others with brains three times its size? The new study suggests that naledi’s behavior may have reflected the shape and structure of the brain more than its size.
The small brains of Homo naledi raise new questions about the evolution of human brain size. Big brains were costly to human ancestors, and some species may have paid the costs with richer diets, hunting and gathering, and longer childhoods. But that scenario doesn’t seem to work well for Homo naledi, which had hands well-suited for toolmaking, long legs, humanlike feet, and teeth suggesting a high-quality diet. According to study coauthor John Hawks, “Naledi’s brain seems like one you might predict for Homo habilis, two million years ago. But habilis didn’t have such a tiny brain–naledi did.”
Homo naledi may have had a pint-sized brain, but that brain packed a big punch. New research by Ralph Holloway and colleagues – that include researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines the imprints of the brain upon the skulls of this species, called endocasts. The research highlights the humanlike shape of naledi’s tiny brain, surprising scientists who studied the fossils. These findings draw further into question the long-held belief that human evolution was an inevitable march towards bigger, more complex brains.
The discovery of Homo naledi by Professor Lee Berger of Wits University and his team at the Rising Star caves in the Cradle of Human Kind in 2013 was one of the largest hominin discoveries ever made and hailed as one of the most significant hominid discoveries of the 21st Century. Berger and Professor John Hawkes who was also part of the original Rising Star team who made the naledi discovery, as well as Professor Heather Garvin from Des Moines University in the US, are associated with the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI), based at Wits University.
The researchers pieced together traces of Homo naledi’s brain shape from an extraordinary collection of skull fragments and partial crania, from at least five adult individuals. One of these bore a very clear imprint of the convolutions on the surface of the brain’s left frontal lobe. “This is the skull I’ve been waiting for my whole career,” said lead author Ralph Holloway, of Columbia University.
The anatomy of naledi’s frontal lobe was similar to humans, and very different from great apes. Naledi wasn’t alone. Other members of our genus, from Homo erectus to Homo habilis and the small-brained “hobbits”, Homo floresiensis, also share features of the frontal lobe with living humans. But earlier human relatives, like Australopithecus africanus, had a much more apelike shape in this part of the brain, suggesting that functional changes in this brain region emerged with Homo. “It’s too soon to speculate about language or communication in Homo naledi,” said coauthor Shawn Hurst, “but today human language relies upon this brain region.”
The back of the brain also showed humanlike changes in naledi compared to more primitive hominins like Australopithecus. Human brains are usually asymmetrical, with the left brain displaced forward relative to the right. The team found signs of this asymmetry in one of the most complete naledi skull fragments. They also found hints that the visual area of the brain, in the back of the cortex, was relatively smaller in naledi than in chimpanzees–another humanlike trait.
A humanlike brain organisation might mean that naledi shared some behaviours with humans despite having a much smaller brain size. Lee Berger, a co-author on the paper, suggests that the recognition of naledi’s small but complex brain will also have a significant impact on the study of African archaeology. “Archaeologists have been too quick to assume that complex stone tool industries were made by modern humans. With naledi being found in southern Africa, at the same time and place that the Middle Stone Age industry emerged, maybe we’ve had the story wrong the whole time.”
Source: The Daily Galaxy
Largest Dinosaur Ever Left Its Mark On Scottish Isle of Skye, Rare Footprint Discovered
Footprints from the largest dinosaur to have ever existed on Earth have been discovered on Scotland’s Isle of Skye.
The fossilized footprints were left by the 170-million-year-old early sauropods, which grew to at least 49ft long and weighed more than 10 tons. Footprints from the ‘older cousins’ of the Tyrannosaurus rex, the two-meter-tall theropods, were also found in a muddy lagoon on the island.
Because of the scarcity of evidence on the Middle Jurassic period, the findings have been described as “globally important.” Dr Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh University said: “It’s important because it’s a large site for dinosaur tracks, those are pretty hard to find.
“It shows both long-necked and meat-eaters were on the same site at the same time living together, side-by-side,” she said, according to The Telegraph. “It captures a moment in time 170 million years ago when they were just hanging out in a lagoon, living on the beach, back when Scotland was much warmer and dinosaurs were beginning their march to global dominance.
“Their long-necked prints are almost car-tire size, whereas the meat-eater ones are about the size of a basketball,” added Dr Brusatte.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Staffin Museum, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences measured, photographed and analyzed around 50 footprints in a tidal area at Brothers’ Point – Rubha nam Brathairean – a headland on Skye’s Trotternish peninsula. Their findings were published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.
The fossils are thought to be the oldest ever found in Scotland. Another set was found in 2015, but they were slightly later and smaller. The oldest dinosaur fossil discovery in the UK is thought to have been of a 200-million-old Tyrannosaurus Rex relative, the Dracoraptor hanigani, found on a Welsh beach in 2016.
Fossilised remains of giant creature, the oldest known Jurassic dinosaurs and related to the fearsome T Rex were discovered on Lavernock beach by a pair of fossil-hunting brothers.
Dracoraptor is Latin for “dragon robber” – with a red dragon the national symbol of Wales.
The brothers donated the remains to the National Museum Cardiff where it is on display in the main hall.
featured image © Gurcan Sarisoy. Isle of Skye
The gigantic stones of Stonehenge were moved there by GLACIERS, new theory claims
A Welsh scientist has called previous theories surrounding Stonehenge ‘mythology,’ and has made a radical new claim that the stones were moved 500,000 years ago by a glacier.
Brian John believes he has solved the mystery of how massive bluestones moved 140 miles west to the south of England from a quarry in Wales where they are believed to have originated.
A popular theory is that humans carried or dragged the stones 5,000 years ago, but it has never been discovered how Stone Age people achieved such a feat.
According to John, the evidence supports a scenario in which the bluestones were carried to the site by a glacier, 500,000 years ago.
His theory would also answer the question of why the ancient builders of Stonehenge believed the stones to have such a spiritual significance that they were worth the effort to transport.
According to John’s new book The Stonehenge Bluestones, the stones did not have a deep meaning to ancient Britons. Instead, they were just there.
‘Over the past 50 years there has been a drift, in Stonehenge studies, from science toward mythology. This has been driven partly by constant media demands for new and spectacular stories about the monument,’ John told British media this week.
In the book, John argues that a glacier carved its way across Wales thousands of years ago.
He believes the ice picked up bluestones along the way and eventually dropped them on the Salisbury Plain after the ice melted.
In 2015, John helped write a report arguing that what was believed to be evidence of neolithic quarrying of bluestones in Wales was actually an ‘entirely natural’ process.
‘This has been driven partly by constant media demands for new and spectacular stories about the monument, and partly by the archaeological emphasis on impact,’ he said.
‘So we see an obsession with narrative at the expense of evidence, and a host of newly manufactured myths which are even more wacky than the old ones. It’s time for a cool reassessment.’
Stonehenge is made up of two types of stone: the bluestones that make up the smaller ring, as well as the sarsen trilithons are that make up the outer ring of the circle.
Sarsen is a layer of sandstone that formed millions of years ago above the chalk layer on Salisbury Plain.
During the various ice ages, permafrost repeatedly froze and thawed this chalk layer, shattering the sarsen.
Over millennia, these stones sank below the surface, leaving a few fragmented rocks jutting out.
These stones, of varying sizes, can be found across Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire, as well as in Kent and in smaller quantities in Berkshire, Essex, Oxfordshire, Dorset and Hampshire.
Stonehenge is one of the most prominent prehistoric monuments in Britain.
The monument that can be seen today is the final stage of a project that spanned 1,500 years.
Stonehenge was donated to the nation’s heritage collection in 1918 by owners Cecil and Mary Chubb.
Mr Chubb had bought the then-neglected monument on impulse at an auction three years earlier having been sent there by his wife to bid for a set of dining room chairs.
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