Rewriting the ‘Out of Africa’ narrative
Fossil jaw from Israel winds back the clock of human migration.
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.