Humans left Africa 50,000 years earlier than previously believed
Researchers have found evidence that modern humans may have left Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought. The team has discovered the earliest modern human fossil that has ever been found outside of Africa.
“Misliya is an exciting discovery,” said Quam. “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.”
The fossil was recovered from a site in Israel called Misliya Cave. The remains consisted of an upper jaw bone with several teeth.
The researchers used micro CT scans and 3D virtual modeling to compare the fossil to other hominin fossils from Africa, Europe, and Asia. They established that the jaw bone and teeth are between 175,000-200,000 years old, which completely changes the timeline of human migration out of Africa.
“While all of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, some features are also found in Neandertals and other human groups,” said Quam. “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 fossil evidence showed that humans in the Misliya Cave were hunters of large game, were capable of controlling the production of fire, and had access to an Early Middle Paleolithic stone tool kit. These tools closely resemble those found with the earliest modern humans in Africa.
The researchers explained that older fossils of modern humans have been found in Africa, but the timeline of human migration out of Africa and the routes that were used are key to a better understanding of the evolution of our species. This particular region in the Middle East portrays a major passage for human migrations, as both modern humans and Neanderthals were settled here at different times.
This fossil evidence suggests that there may have been a genetic merger with local populations further back than scientists have thought, according to Quam. Recent fossil discoveries in Asia are also pushing back the earliest emergence of modern humans out of Africa.
The study is published in the journal Science.
Image Credit: Rolf Quam