Oldest human remains found outside Africa turn back humanity's clock

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The left maxilla of human remains from Misliya Cave in Israel, the oldest remains of our species Homo sapiens found outside Africa, is shown in this handout photo released on January 25, 2018. (Reuters Photo)
The left maxilla of human remains from Misliya Cave in Israel, the oldest remains of our species Homo sapiens found outside Africa, is shown in this handout photo released on January 25, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

The remains of the earliest modern human to be found outside of Africa have been unearthed in Israel, a discovery that turns back the clock of human history by at least 50,000 years, according to researchers.

A jawbone, complete with teeth, recently discovered inside the Misliya Cave in Israel has been dated using three different methods which have given it an age range of between 177,000 and 194,000 years old.

"The entire narrative of the evolution of Homo sapiens must be pushed back by at least 100,000-200,000 years," Professor Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University said.

"In other words, if modern humans started traveling out of Africa some 200,000 years ago, it follows that they must have originated in Africa at least 300,000-500,000 years ago."

Previously anthropologists had mostly reached a consensus that modern humans evolved in Africa roughly 160,000-200,000 years ago and began to migrate out of Africa around 100,000 years ago.

"This finding ... completely changes our view on modern human dispersal and the history of modern human evolution," Hershkovitz said.

Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa, with the earliest-known fossils roughly 300,000 years old. A key milestone was when our species first ventured out of Africa en route to populating the far corners of the globe.

Until now, the oldest Homo sapiens fossils outside Africa had come from two other cave sites in Israel, including one also on Mount Carmel, about 90,000 to 120,000 years old.

The new discovery supports the idea that humans migrated out of Africa through a northern route, the Nile valley and the eastern Mediterranean coast, and not a southern route across the Bab al-Mandeb strait, the southern coast of Saudi Arabia, the Indian subcontinent and East Asia, said Hershkovitz.

"This is an exciting discovery that confirms other suggestions of an earlier migration out of Africa," added paleoanthropologist Rolf Quam of Binghamton University in New York, a co-author of the study published in the journal Science.

"Now we finally have fossil evidence of this migration, in addition to inferences drawn from ancient DNA studies and archaeological sites," Quam said.

The Misliya humans were likely nomadic, moving around the landscape following the movements of prey species or according to the seasons of the year, Quam said.

"They were capable hunters of large-game species including wild cattle, deer and gazelles. They also made extensive use of plant materials, including perhaps for bedding," Quam added.

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