'Jaw'-dropping archaeological discovery resets evolutionary clock by 50,000 years

Scientists from around the world announced on Thursday that they have found the oldest human fossil outside of Africa.

The term jaw-dropping is often used as hyperbole in stories about modern-day scientific discoveries. But news out of Israel today is quite literally so.

An international team of more than two dozen researchers – from the U.S., Israel, Spain and Australia, just to name a few – discovered the oldest-known human fossil outside of Africa.

The fossil, an upper jawbone with several teeth, was found at a site called Misliya Cave in Israel, one of several prehistoric cave sites located on Mount Carmel. The jawbone and its eight accompanying teeth are between 175,000-200,000 years old, pushing back the modern human migration out of Africa by at least 50,000 years.

Close-up view of the jawbone. Close-up view of the jawbone. (Photo: Israel Hershkovitz / Tel Aviv University)

The team was led by Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University. "This finding – that early modern humans were present outside of Africa earlier than commonly believed – completely changes our view on modern human dispersal and the history of modern human evolution," he said.

Hershkovitz went on to explain: "Our research makes sense of many recent anthropological and genetic finds. About a year ago, scientists reported finding the remains of modern humans in China dating to about 80,000-100,000 years ago. This suggested that their migration occurred earlier than previously thought, but until our discovery at Misliya, we could not explain it. Numerous different pieces of the puzzle – the occurrence of the earliest modern human in Misliya, evidence of genetic mixture between Neanderthals and humans, modern humans in China – now fall into place."

Along with his colleague Mina Weinstein-Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa, they sent the jawbone to colleagues across the globe to authenticate their findings. “It looked so modern that it took us five years to convince people, because they couldn’t believe their eyes,” Weinstein-Evron told the New York Times. Their research was published in the journal Science.

"Misliya is an exciting discovery," said Rolf Quam, Binghamton University anthropology professor and another coauthor of the study. "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."


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Related Topics: Archaeology