Rewrit­ing the ‘Out of Africa’ nar­ra­tive

Fos­sil jaw from Is­rael winds back the clock of hu­man mi­gra­tion.

Cosmos - - Digest -

There has been a lot of rewrit­ing of an­thro­pol­ogy text­books lately.

For decades the books taught that the cra­dle of the hu­man species was Ethiopia, where Homo sapi­ens emerged 200,000 years ago. Mod­ern hu­mans got as far as Is­rael 100,000 years ago and dis­persed into Eura­sia about 70,000 years ago.

The cra­dle chapter re­quired a re­write in June 2017, when mod­ern hu­man re­mains from Morocco were dated to 300,000 years ago. Now it is time to re­write the next chapter.

A study pub­lished in Science re­ports that a mod­ern hu­man jaw­bone found in Is­rael’s Mis­liya cave is be­tween 177,000 and 194,000 years old.

The find­ing “opens the door” to Homo sapi­ens hav­ing left Africa not 100,000 years ago but more than 200,000 years ago, says lead author Is­rael Her­shkovitz of Tel Aviv Univer­sity.

Is­rael is known as the site for the first ev­i­dence of the ex­o­dus of mod­ern hu­mans from Africa. This has been based on fos­sils from Qafzeh Cave, south of Nazareth, and Skhul Cave on Mount Carmel, dated to be­tween 80,000 and 120,000 years old.

Mis­liya cave also lies on the slopes of Mount Carmel. It is lit­tered with Stone Age re­mains, in­clud­ing thou­sands of tools and the bones of butchered an­i­mals, such as au­rochs, hares and boars.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists un­cov­ered the his­to­ryrewrit­ing adult up­per jaw­bone, com­plete with teeth, in a block of pet­ri­fied soil in 2002. It has taken un­til now to com­plete the anal­y­sis.

Three in­de­pen­dent lab­o­ra­to­ries used dif­fer­ent meth­ods to cal­cu­late the star­tlingly old dates: ura­nium-tho­rium dat­ing, ther­mo­lu­mi­nes­cence and elec­tron spin res­o­nance.

The jaw was also scanned with mi­cro CT to con­firm that it be­longed to a mod­ern hu­man and not to a Ne­an­derthal.

The find­ing has ram­i­fi­ca­tions down the chain of hu­man pre­his­tory. If hu­mans were al­ready in Is­rael 200,000 years ago, that sup­ports a 2015 re­port of 47 mod­ern hu­man teeth dated as 80,000 to 120,000 years old in a cave in south­ern China.

The spate of find­ings from Morocco and now Is­rael have an­thro­pol­o­gists like Deb­bie Ar­gue, of the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, hold­ing their breath. “I think we’re go­ing to find more fos­sils and they’ll prob­a­bly be older.”


This jaw from Mis­liya cave in Is­rael in­di­cates the ex­o­dus of mod­ern hu­mans from Africa took place 100,000 years ear­lier than thought.

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