An international team of scientists has discovered a 55,000-year old partial skull at Manot Cave in Israel`s Western Galilee. Researchers believe it belonged to the oldest-known human species that was a direct ancestor of modern Homo sapiens. It is one of the oldest non-African skulls that are very close to modern humans. What surprised scientists was its age. It comes close to the date when humans migrated out of Africa to colonize Europe, Asia, Australian and the Americas.
The skull supports the theory of human origin in Africa
The skull’s traits are similar to the modern African and European populations. It has a bun-shaped occipital region on the back, but anatomically differs from other modern humans in the Levant. The discovery supports the thesis that our direct ancestors were originally from Africa, not Europe. They came, in several waves, out of Africa to the Middle East, Europe and Asia, according to the study published in the journal Nature.
Professor Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, the lead author of the study, said that the fossil also offers evidence that moderns humans and Neanderthals inhabited around the same time in the Levant during the late Pleistocene period. Just a few kilometers away from Manot cave, Neanderthal fossils have been found at two sites: the Amud and Kebara caves. The Neanderthal remains were 50,000 to 65,000 years old.
Modern humans and Neanderthals were contemporaries
It means humans from the two species were contemporaries, or maybe even neighbors. Prof Hershkovitz said interbreeding might also have occurred between modern humans and Neanderthals around the same time. The skull analysis suggests that this individual was a “hybrid” between modern humans and Neanderthals, but researchers warned that we should not rely on a single fossil to reach such a conclusion.
A small percentage of modern humans’ DNA is similar to that of Neanderthals, indicating that a limited interbreeding must have taken place in the past. Other human skulls have also been unearthed in the region, but they are more primitive and older. They differ dramatically from this new skull found in Manot, and from us.