560,000-year-old tooth found by student may be one of the oldest human remains in France

560,000-year-old tooth found by student may be one of the oldest human remains in France

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A volunteer archaeologist by the name of Valentin Loescher, aged 20, has found an ancient tooth at the Arago Cave, near Tautavel, south western France. He was working as part of an archaeological dig at the site alongside Camille Jacquey, 16, when he discovered it. The tooth, which has been dated back 560,000 years, could potentially be one of the oldest human remains in France, predating the Tautavel man, a prehistoric hunter found at the same location, by 100,000 years.

Reconstructed skeleton of Tautavel Man ( Wikimedia Commons )

According to a report published in The Guardian , Loescher said he had been brushing a mound of soil in the cave, at a location where there were lots of remains of animals. That is when he found a small fragment of a tooth. He took it to Amélie Vialet, a paleoanthropologist overseeing the excavation. It was then examined with the aid of a computer and subsequently sent to a laboratory.

The tooth is a lower central incisor and has been dubbed Arago 149 , as it is the 149 th human artefact discovered at the site. In July 2012, a lower jawbone was discovered.

Lower jaw bone of Homo erectus from Tautavel, France ( Wikimedia Commons )

“A large adult tooth – we can’t say if it was from a male or female – was found during excavations of soil we know to be between 550,000 and 580,000 years old, because we used different dating methods” said Ms Vialet, speaking to Agence France-Presse. “This is a major discovery because we have very few human fossils from this period in Europe.”

Yves Coppens, professor of paleoanthropology and prehistory at the Collège de France, added that teeth can tell archaeologists a whole range of things, such as the eating habits of the person concerned and also potentially the identity, from the DNA. Professor Coppens was a member of the original excavation at the cave in the 1970’s.

The Arago Cave was first excavated in 1964, although no significant finds were discovered until 1969. Tautavel man lived 450,000 years ago and was a subspecies of Homo erectus. A total of 60,000 artifacts have been discovered at the site since the cave was first investigated and the prehistoric humans discovered there are the oldest human remains ever discovered in Europe. The cave is located on high ground in the southern Corbières region, overlooking the Tautavel Valley. The original occupants would have had a magnificent view of the valley, including of the river below where the animals they hunted came to drink, included horses, bison, deer and rhinoceros. The climate was fairly cold at that time, although it was also fairly arid .

Verdouble creek beneath Arago-cave, near Tautavel (Perpignan-region), France ( Wikimedia Commons )

Tautavel man was discovered by Professor Henri de Lumley on 22 nd July 1971 and named Homo erectus tautavelensis in order to differentiate the remains from other examples of Homo erectus found in Africa. He had sunken eyes, large jutting eyebrows and prominent jaws without a chin and stood 1.65 metres tall (5 feet 5 inches), weighing around 45 to 55 kg. He had a cranial capacity of 1,100 cubic centimetres, inferior to that of Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens. The cranial capacity of modern humans is 1,400 cubic centimetres. Human bones found in the cave indicate that Tautavel man may have practised cannibalism.

Featured image: The tooth before it was removed. Credit: Musee Homme de Tautavel

By Robin Whitlock

    10 Important Prehistoric Individuals Worth Knowing

    Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, once said, &ldquoIf you don&rsquot know history, then you don&rsquot know anything. You are a leaf that doesn&rsquot know it is part of a tree.&rdquo Indeed, history is important. It helps us understand who we are, where we came from, and most importantly, where we&rsquore going. Like Robert Pen Warren once wrote, &ldquoHistory . . . can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.&rdquo

    But how about prehistory? Some people might say it&rsquos irrelevant, but experts will tell you that examining prehistory is just as important as studying history. Thanks to advances in technology, especially in genetic analysis, we are starting to gain a deeper understanding how prehumans and humans evolved and lived. By studying the lives of prehistoric individuals, we can gain an in-depth knowledge of our humanity and a tiny glimpse of our future.

    Ancient teeth show some early humans came to Israel from Europe 40,000 years ago

    Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

    First the first time, scientists have uncovered rare 40,000-year-old human teeth dating to the period of the elusive Aurignacian culture in the Levant, which indicate these early humans came to the region through reverse migration from Europe, according to Dr. Racheli Sarig, of Tel Aviv University’s School of Dental Medicine and Dan David Center Center for Human Evolution and Bio-History Research.

    This evidence may put to rest a decades-long chicken-and-egg debate between researchers trying to prove which direction the Aurignacian people moved. The 40,000-year-old teeth found in Israel show that these early Europeans brought their artistic culture to the Mideast.

    Normally, researchers of evolution discuss human migration as taking place from Africa, through the Levant, to Europe. The new Israeli study hypothesizes that — at least for a brief period of several thousand years — humans also migrated in the “reverse” direction.

    The study of the morphology of six teeth discovered in a limestone cave in the Western Galilee town of Manot was recently published in the Journal of Human Evolution. In addition to potentially solving the migration debate, the findings also indicate a period in which modern humans and Neanderthals interbred some 40,000 years ago, Sarig told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

    Fossil evidence of interbreeding in this early Upper Paleolithic period has till now only been found in European locations. The similarity of the fossils led the study’s scientists to hypothesize about their common roots.

    “This is a very important time in the study of human evolution,” said Sarig, in which there is evidence of mixture of the humanoids. “It can really give us insight into where Neanderthals disappeared and how they were interbred in modern humans.”

    The Aurignacian culture first appeared in Europe some 43,000 years ago. There are many famous cave paintings discovered throughout the continent from this culture, including the stunning single hand in France’s Cave of Aurignac from which the era and its people took their name. The early people are known for their bone tools and artifacts, as well as jewelry and musical instruments.

    While there are cultural remains that have been found in Israel, including very early art in the form of a horse cave painting, Sarig explained these six teeth discovered in the Manot Cave are among the only human fossils found here from this period of flux.

    The study cannot definitely conclude that there was reverse migration from Europe, but based on the researchers’ analysis there is a high probability, she said. Similar human evidence in Europe predate the Israeli finds by several thousand years.

    “Using the teeth can give us insight into the population, but without DNA, there is no definite conclusion,” said Sarig. She added that scientists are unable to garner DNA samples in specimens in the Levant that are older than 10,000 years due to poor preservation.

    To overcome the lack of a genetic profile, the researchers in the current study use high-tech imaging of the teeth to chart a morphological profile. The morphological study was completed in collaboration with Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority and scientists in Austria and the US.

    “Unlike bones, teeth are preserved well as they are made of enamel, which is the substance in the human body most resistant to the effects of time,” said Sarig in a TAU statement. “The structure, shape, and topography – surface bumps – of the teeth provided important genetic information. We were able to use the external and internal shape of the teeth found in the cave to associate them with typical hominin groups: Neanderthal and Homo sapiens.”

    Using micro-CT scans and 3D analyses on four of the teeth, the team was able to create the morphological picture of the people whose mouths once held them. There were six teeth in the study from at least five individuals three of the teeth were from adults and three from children. Only four of the teeth were viable for testing.

    Speaking with The Times of Israel, Sarig explained that of the four viable teeth, one tooth showed mostly modern human morphology, another was more Neanderthal “but also had some ambiguous results and showed a mixture,” and the final two were “completely mixed,” said Sarig.

    Manot Cave continues to serve up groundbreaking fossils

    The current study was completed in TAU’s new Dan David Center Center for Human Evolution, which, Sarig said, is trying to be the home for all human specimens and fossils discovered in Israel.

    As part of its mission to make academic research accessible to the public, the center has teamed up with the new Museum of Natural History, also at the university, where there is a collaborative evolution exhibit including other remains previously published from the Manot Cave and elsewhere. Sarig said she assumed the six Aurignacian teeth will “probably be displayed in the near future.”

    Currently on display are other findings from the Manot Cave, which was discovered by chance in 2008 and has been excavated for nine seasons. Many of the finds have been startling, including a 55,000-year-old skull. The skull was discovered in 2010 among a mix of stone and bone tools, fragments of deer, gazelle and hyena bones and human skeletal fragments that range from 45,000 to 20,000 years old.

    According to a 2015 Times of Israel article, the skull is an anatomically modern human’s, and included an “archaic” protrusion at the base of the neck typical of modern African and European skulls. It indicated that Manot people “could be closely related to the first modern humans who later successfully colonized Europe,” said Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, one of the authors of a 2015 paper, a leading voice in the field of human evolution and the head of the Dan David Center.

    At the time, Hershkovitz said that roughly four percent of all modern humans’ DNA is Neanderthal. Genetic models indicate that the first hybridization took place between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago in the Levant.

    “Manot, in terms of time and location,” Hershkovitz said in 2015, “is the best candidate for the love story that scientists talk about between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.”

    The current tooth study focuses on a people who lived in the same Manot Cave some 17,000 years later and apparently continued the love fest.

    Hershkovitz noted this week, “To date, we have not found any human remains from this period in Israel, so the group remains a mystery. This groundbreaking study brings for the first time the story of the population responsible for some of the world’s most important cultural contributions.”

    In conversation, Sarig is careful not to over-egg the prehistoric pudding and said that the study is based on only a few fossils. Scientists cannot conclude overarching results based only on four teeth. “But we can get some insight,” she added.

    “Following the migration of European populations into this region, a new culture existed in our region for a short time – approximately 2-3,000 years – and then disappeared for no apparent reason,” said Sarig in the TAU statement. “Now we know something about their makeup.”

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    The Fossil Teeth That Could 'Rewrite History' Establish an Unthinkable Theory

    All the human remains of Tautavel are attributed to Homo heidelbergensis, as revealed by researchers. This early human species lived in Europe and Asia 700,000 to 200,000 years ago and was the first to build shelters out of wood and rock.

    While the tooth is yet to be analyzed, it undoubtedly gives us a deeper insight into the way of life of these distant cousins.

    Researchers are fascinated by this discovery and call it as &ldquoexceptional&rdquo as the human remains that date back to this period is very rare. It has always been a source of wonderment for researchers and scientists how the people back in those days lived and survived.

    These sites have been the source of a number of discoveries amounting to almost 150 ancient human fossils that have significantly helped researchers in getting some much-needed insight into the way of living of the people back then.

    However, what they are still yet to ascertain is whether these caves were simply a temporary shelter after tiring hunting trips for our ancestors or whether they turned it into their permanent homes to live with their families.

    This milk tooth could probably go a long way in solving this mystery, although that is yet to be seen.

    9 Oldest Human Fossils in the World

    Modern humans (Homo sapiens) are the only remaining human group still around. All other human species have been long extinct, but we know about them today through various fossil specimens. The first human fossils were discovered in the 19 th century and were highly controversial. Early paleontologists didn’t know what to make of these fossils and often made claims that they belonged to the “missing link” between humans and apes or that they were human ancestors suffering from disease. As the paleoanthropology advanced scientists started to recognize that these fossils belonged to the our human ancestors. Some of these fossils are millions of years old and represent some of the earliest human species yet discovered.

    9. Peking Man

    Age: 680,000 – 780,000 years
    Species: Homo erectus
    Location: China
    Year Discovered: 1921

    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The skull fragments of the Peking Man are part of a group of fossils discovered Zhoukoudian, China during excavations from 1921 – 1937. These fossils range in age from 680,000 – 780,000 years old. Overall, 15 partial skulls, 11 mandibles, several teeth, some skeletal bones, and a large number of stone tools were recovered from the dig sites.

    The fossils were extensively studied by paleoanthropologist David Blackson until his death in 1934. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Franz Weidenreich took over the research until Weidenreich had to leave China in 1941. Unfortunately, the original Peking Man fossils vanished in 1941 when Beijing was under Japanese occupation. The fossils have never been found despite numerous attempts. Luckily, several casts and descriptions of the Peking Man survive and four of the teeth still exist in the Paleontological Museum of Uppsala University.

    8. Java Man

    Age: 700,000 – 1 million years
    Species: Homo erectus erectus
    Location: Indonesia
    Year Discovered: 1891

    photo source:Wikimedia Commons

    As one of the first major human fossil finds from the late 19 th century, the Java Man is a widely known early human specimen. The molar, skullcap, and thigh bone of the Java Man were discovered by paleoanthropologist Eugène Dubois. Dubois claimed that his discovery represented the “missing link” between apes and humans and classified it as Anthropopithecus erectus (an outdated classification).

    Within a decade of the Java Man’s discovery, several books and articles were published about Dubois’s find. The Java Man was controversial, with many arguing that it did not represent the transitional form between humans and apes. Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr reclassified the Java Man as Homo erectus in 1950. During the 1970s, some scientists started distinguishing the Java Man from other Homo erectus populations by labeling the specimen as Homo erectus erectus.

    7. Mojokerto Child

    Age: 1.43 – 1.49 million years
    Species: Homo erectus
    Location: Indonesia
    Year Discovered: 1936

    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The fossil known as the Mojokerto child is a skullcap from a Homo erectus juvenile found in Indonesia. At the time of the fossil’s discovery in 1936, Ralph von Koenigswald classified the skullcap as Pithecanthropus modjokertensis but soon renamed it Homo modjokertensis. Neither of these classifications is correct or recognized today and the specimen is widely believed to be Homo erectus.

    Initially, the Mojokerto child skull was hard to date because its exact discovery site could not be determined. In the early 1990s, the fossil was dated to 1.81 million years ago, with a margin of error of plus or minus 40,000 years. The skull was more precisely dated to between 1.43 – 1.49 million years in 2003 – this estimate is now widely accepted.

    6. Turkana Boy

    Age: 1.5 – 1.6 million years
    Species: Homo erectus
    Location: Kenya
    Year Discovered: 1984

    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The Turkana Boy, scientifically known as KNM-WT 15000, is notable for being the most complete early human fossil ever discovered. The near-complete skeleton was discovered in 1984 by Kamoya Kimeu, a member of Richard Leakey’s research team. The fossil is estimated to be between 1.5 – 1.6 million years old.

    Researchers estimate that the Turkana Boy was about 7 – 11 years old at the time of death. He was about 160 cm (63 in) tall and may have been nearly fully grown despite his young age. Scientists believe that he would have had a much smaller and briefer growth spurt than modern humans. The Turkana Boy also had a narrower pelvis which suggests he was completely bipedal – this differs from other early hominin species which still climbed trees and were only partial bipedal.

    5. Dmanisi Skulls

    Age: about 1.8 million years
    Species: Homo erectus georgicus
    Location: Dmanisi, Georgia
    Year Discovered: 2001 – 2005

    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The five skulls found in Dmanisi, Georgia are some of the oldest fossils belonging to the Homo erectus line. The most notable skulls, known as skull 3, 4, and 5, were discovered in the early 2000s. These skulls are smaller than other Homo erectus skulls and have now been classified as a subspecies called Homo erectus georgicus.

    A study published in 2013 describing Dmanisi Skull 5 reopened the debate over how to classify early humans. The skull is one of the oldest nearly complete human skulls ever discovered. The scientists from the study believe that Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis were not separate human species but subspecies of Homo erectus. However other scientists do not believe the reclassification is necessary.

    4. Twiggy (OH 24)

    Age: 1.8 million years
    Species: Homo habilis
    Location: Tanzania
    Year Discovered: 1968

    photo source: Smithsonian

    Twiggy (OH 24) is the oldest fossil skull recovered from the Olduvai Gorge paleoanthropological site in Tanzania. The skull is also one of the oldest known Homo habilis specimens. Twiggy was discovered in 1968 and was crushed flat, hence the nickname after supermodel Twiggy who was known for being thin.

    When OH 24 was first discovered, there was very little interest in the skull. Scientist Ron Clarke pushed for the skulls reconstruction and it was finally examined. Unfortunately the skull was distorted from the way it was preserved and it has a slightly small cranial capacity compared to typical Homo habilis skulls. Due to OH 24’s age, the skull is often used to help settle disputes about how to properly classify Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis skulls.

    3. KNM ER 1470

    Age: 1.9 million years
    Species: Homo rudolfensis
    Location: Kenya
    Year Discovered: 1972

    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    When the skull fossil known as KNM ER 1470 was first discovered, it was incorrectly dated as being nearly three million years old. This predated Homo habilis, which the skull was initially identified as. However KNM ER 1470 was properly dated to about 1.9 million years and classified as belonging to a separate human group, Homo rudolfensis, which lived in the same area and time as Homo habilis.

    KNM ER 1470 was discovered just a year before KNM ER 1813, which is one of the oldest Homo habilis specimens. After KNM ER 1470 was reconstructed by Meave Leakey and Bernard Wood, they discovered that the skull was too large and too different to belong to Homo habilis. The skull was reconstructed more precisely in 2007 and it is now widely accepted as a Homo rudolfensis specimen.

    2. KNM ER 1813

    Age: about 1.9 million years
    Species: Homo habilis
    Location: Kenya
    Year Discovered: 1973

    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The human fossil known as KNM ER 1813 is one of the oldest and most complete Homo habilis specimens ever discovered. The skull fossil was uncovered in 1973 in Kenya by Kamoya Kimeu, who worked with famed paleontologists Meave Leakey and Richard Leakey.

    KNM ER 1813 is often noted for being a controversial Homo habilis specimen due to its small size. Unlike other Homo habilis skulls, KNM ER 1813 only has a cranial capacity of 510 cubic centimeters – the accepted cutoff for Homo habilis skulls is 600 cubic centimeters. Additionally, the skull’s overall size and teeth are much smaller than those found on other Homo habilis skulls. Despite all the difference, KNM ER 1813 has enough Homo habilis characteristics to be classified as belonging to the species.

    1. UR 501 Jawbone

    Age: 2.5 – 2.3 million years
    Species: Homo rudolfensis
    Location: Malawi
    Year Discovered: 1991

    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The jawbone found at the Uraha Hill paleoanthropological site in Malawi is the oldest known human fossil in the world. The exact age of the jawbone is unknown but is estimated to be around 2.5 – 2.3 million years old. This ancient jawbone belonged to a human from the Homo rudolfensis group and is considered the oldest specimen from the genus Homo.

    When the jawbone was first discovered in 1991, scientists thought that it belonged to another early human ancestor, Homo habilis. However researchers later decided that the jawbone belonged to Homo rudolfensis because it was too different from specimens from other early human groups. The discovery of the jawbone also shed more light on how early human may have migrated throughout Africa.

    The problems with a warp drive

    There were some problems though. Most important was that this "Alcubierre drive" required lots of "exotic matter" or "negative energy" to work. Unfortunately, there's no such thing. These are things theorists dreamed up to stick into the GR equations in order to do cool things like make stable open wormholes or functioning warp drives.

    It's also noteworthy that researchers have raised other concerns about an Alcubierre drive — like how it would violate quantum mechanics or how when you arrived at your destination it would destroy everything in front of the ship in an apocalyptic flash of radiation.

    Archaeologists uncover 'extraordinary' Neanderthal remains in Italian cave

    In a cave south of Rome, archaeologists recently found the remains of nine Neanderthals, an "extraordinary discovery that will be the talk of the world," Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said.

    Archaeologists began excavating the Guattari Cave in San Felice Circeo in 2019, 80 years after a Neanderthal skull was found inside. Because of either an earthquake or landslide, the cave was closed off, and the inside is preserved as it was 50,000 years ago, NPR reports. The archaeologists found skulls, skull and bone fragments, and teeth, with the oldest remains from 90,000 to 100,000 years ago the rest likely date back 50,000 to 68,000 years, the Italian Cultural Ministry said on Saturday.

    The ministry described the cave as "one of the most significant places in the world for the history of Neanderthals," and said archaeologists also uncovered the fossilized remains of elephants, hyenas, rhinoceros, and giant deer.

    7.2-million-year-old pre-human remains found in the Balkans

    The common lineage of great apes and humans split several hundred thousand earlier than hitherto assumed, according to an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The researchers investigated two fossils of Graecopithecus freybergi with state-of-the-art methods and came to the conclusion that they belong to pre-humans. Their findings, published today in two papers in the journal PLOS ONE, further indicate that the split of the human lineage occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean and not -- as customarily assumed -- in Africa.

    Present-day chimpanzees are humans' nearest living relatives. Where the last chimp-human common ancestor lived is a central and highly debated issue in palaeoanthropology. Researchers have assumed up to now that the lineages diverged five to seven million years ago and that the first pre-humans developed in Africa. According to the 1994 theory of French palaeoanthropologist Yves Coppens, climate change in Eastern Africa could have played a crucial role. The two studies of the research team from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia now outline a new scenario for the beginning of human history.

    Dental roots give new evidence

    The team analyzed the two known specimens of the fossil hominid Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar from Bulgaria. Using computer tomography, they visualized the internal structures of the fossils and demonstrated that the roots of premolars are widely fused.

    "While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused -- a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus," said Böhme.

    The lower jaw, nicknamed 'El Graeco' by the scientists, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species Graecopithecus freybergi might belong to the pre-human lineage. "We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa," said Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.

    Furthermore, Graecopithecus is several hundred thousand years older than the oldest potential pre-human from Africa, the six to seven million year old Sahelanthropus from Chad. The research team dated the sedimentary sequence of the Graecopithecus fossil sites in Greece and Bulgaria with physical methods and got a nearly synchronous age for both fossils -- 7.24 and 7.175 million years before present. "It is at the beginning of the Messinian, an age that ends with the complete desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea," Böhme said.

    Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added, "This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area."

    Environmental changes as the driving force for divergence

    As with the out-of-East-Africa theory, the evolution of pre-humans may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes. The team led by Böhme demonstrated that the North African Sahara desert originated more than seven million years ago. The team concluded this based on geological analyses of the sediments in which the two fossils were found. Although geographically distant from the Sahara, the red-colored silts are very fine-grained and could be classified as desert dust. An analysis of uranium, thorium, and lead isotopes in individual dust particles yields an age between 0.6 and 3 billion years and infers an origin in Northern Africa.

    Moreover, the dusty sediment has a high content of different salts. "These data document for the first time a spreading Sahara 7.2 million years ago, whose desert storms transported red, salty dusts to the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea in its then form," the Tübingen researchers said. This process is also observable today. However, the researchers' modelling shows that, with up to 250 grams per square meter and year, the amount of dust in the past considerably exceeds recent dust loadings in Southern Europe more than tenfold, comparable to the situation in the present-day Sahel zone in Africa.

    Fire, grass, and water stress

    The researchers further showed that, contemporary to the development of the Sahara in North Africa, a savannah biome formed in Europe. Using a combination of new methodologies, they studied microscopic fragments of charcoal and plant silicate particles, called phytoliths. Many of the phytoliths identified derive from grasses and particularly from those that use the metabolic pathway of C4-photosynthesis, which is common in today's tropical grasslands and savannahs. The global spread of C4-grasses began eight million years ago on the Indian subcontinent -- their presence in Europe was previously unknown.

    "The phytolith record provides evidence of severe droughts, and the charcoal analysis indicates recurring vegetation fires," said Böhme. "In summary, we reconstruct a savannah, which fits with the giraffes, gazelles, antelopes, and rhinoceroses that were found together with Graecopithecus," Spassov added

    "The incipient formation of a desert in North Africa more than seven million years ago and the spread of savannahs in Southern Europe may have played a central role in the splitting of the human and chimpanzee lineages," said Böhme. She calls this hypothesis the North Side Story, recalling the thesis of Yves Coppens, known as East Side Story.

    The findings are described in two studies pubished in PLOS ONE titled "Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the late Miocene of Europe" and "Messinian age and savannah environment of the possible hominin Graecopithecus from Europe."


    The find was made at a site called Misliya Cave on Mount Carmel, a coastal mountain range in northern Israel.

    Anthropology associate professor Rolf Quam from Binghamton University, State University of New York, said: 'Misliya is an exciting discovery.

    'It provides the clearest evidence yet that our ancestors first migrated out of Africa much earlier than we previously believed.

    Before the latest discovery, the earliest modern human fossils found outside of Africa were those estimated to be between 90,000 to 120,000 years old. And scientists say it suggests that early man either displaced or interbred with Neandertals and other hominin groups

    The fossil, an upper jawbone with several teeth, was found in one of several prehistoric cave sites in Israel (pictured)


    The traditional 'Out of Africa' model suggests that modern humans evolved in Africa and then left in a single wave around 60,000 years ago.

    The model often holds once modern humans left the continent, a brief period of interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred.

    This explains why individuals of European and Asian heritage today still have ancient human DNA.

    There are many theories as to what drove the downfall of the Neanderthals.

    Experts have suggested that early humans may have carried tropical diseases with them from Africa that wiped out their ape-like cousins.

    Others claim that plummeting temperatures due to climate change wiped out the Neanderthals.

    The predominant theory is that early humans killed off the Neanderthal through competition for food and habitat.

    How the story is changing in light of new research

    Recent findings suggest that the 'Out of Africa' theory does not tell the full story of our ancestors.

    Instead, multiple, smaller movements of humans out of Africa beginning 120,000 years ago were then followed by a major migration 60,000 years ago.

    Most of our DNA is made up of this latter group, but the earlier migrations, also known as 'dispersals', are still evident.

    This explains recent studies of early human remains which have been found in the far reaches of Asia dating back further than 60,000 years.

    For example, H. sapiens remains have been found at multiple sites in southern and central China that have been dated to between 70,000 and 120,000 years ago.

    Other recent finds show that modern humans reached Southeast Asia and Australia prior to 60,000 years ago.

    Based on these studies, humans could not have come in a single wave from Africa around this time, studies have found.

    Instead, the origin of man suggests that modern humans developed in multiple regions around the world.

    The theory claims that groups of a pre-human ancestors made their way out of Africa and spread across parts of Europe and the Middle East.

    From here the species developed into modern humans in several places at once.

    The argument is by a new analysis of a 260,000-year-old skull found in Dali County in China's Shaanxi Province.

    The skull suggests that early humans migrated to Asia, where they evolved modern human traits and then moved back to Africa.

    '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.'

    Researchers analysed the fossil remains relying on microCT scans and 3D virtual models and compared it with other hominin fossils from Africa, Europe and Asia.

    Prof Quam added: 'While all of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, some features are also found in Neandertals and other human groups.

    'One of the challenges in this study was identifying features in Misliya that are found only in modern humans.

    'These are the features that provide the clearest signal of what species the Misliya fossil represents.'

    The fossil dubbed Misliya-1, exhibits teeth that are in the upper size range of what's seen in modern humans, but that otherwise shows clear patterns and features of our species (computer generated image)

    As well, the foramen and aspects of the skull support the classification of the specimen as human. Yet Misliya-1 lacks certain unique features of Neandertals and earlier hominin species, such as a low and broad tooth crown

    The archaeological evidence revealed the inhabitants of Misliya Cave were capable hunters of large game species, controlled the production of fire and were associated with an Early Middle Paleolithic stone tool kit, similar to that found with the earliest modern humans in Africa.

    The fossil dubbed Misliya-1, exhibits teeth that are in the upper size range of what's seen in modern humans, but that otherwise shows clear patterns and features of our species.

    As well, the foramen and aspects of the skull support the classification of the specimen as human.

    Yet Misliya-1 lacks certain unique features of Neanderthals and earlier hominin species, such as a low and broad tooth crown.

    Stone tools excavated near Misliya-1 are shaped in a sophisticated way, called the Levallois technique.

    Tools shaped this way have been discovered in a cave close by, but the material at Misliya represents the earliest known association of the Levallois technique with modern human fossils in the region.

    While older fossils of modern humans have been found in Africa how and when they left the continent are key issues for understanding the evolution of our own species.

    The find was made at a site called Misliya Cave on Mount Carmel, a coastal mountain range in northern Israel

    The region of the Middle East represents a major corridor for hominin migrations during the Pleistocene and has been occupied at different times by both modern humans and Neandertals.

    Professor Quam said the new discovery opens the door to demographic replacement or genetic admixture with local populations earlier than previously thought

    Evidence from Misliya is consistent with recent suggestions based on ancient DNA for an earlier migration, prior to 220,000 years ago, of modern humans out of Africa.

    Several recent archaeological and fossil discoveries in Asia are also pushing back the first appearance of modern humans in the region and, by implication, the migration out of Africa.

    Tools of the trade

    However the new hominin is ultimately defined, researchers are excited by hints that our ancient relatives in the Philippines were engaging in some very familiar activities, including signs of tool use.

    The 2010 paper that introduced the Callao cave foot bone—which is now considered a part of H. luzonensis—mentions that a deer bone found in the same sediments bears what look like stone-tool cut marks. Michael Petraglia, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, takes the bone as a sign that H. luzonensis was a proficient toolmaker and hunter.

    There's also evidence that H. luzonensis, or another ancient hominin, lived on Luzon even further back in time. In 2018, Mijares and his colleagues announced the discovery of stone tools and a butchered rhinoceros skeleton that are more than 700,000 years old, found not too far from Callao Cave. Because of the time gap between the remains and the tool site, however, it's tough to say whether the stone tool users were predecessors of H. luzonensis or an unrelated hominin.

    Filling in the gaps

    Led by archaeology professor Dušan Mihailović of Belgrade University and Bojana Mihailović, curator at the National Museum of Serbia, our international team of researchers has been identifying and excavating caves throughout Serbia, trying to fill the gaps in our knowledge of this important region. Along with our coauthor Predrag Radović, our role on the team is to study fossil human remains.

    A decade ago, in a cave not far from Pešturina named Mala Balanica, we found a human jawbone which would later be dated to about half a million years old — the oldest human fossil from the Central Balkans and one of the oldest from Europe. This jawbone did not belong to a Neanderthal, but to an older (and different) kind of human called Homo heidelbergensis. But we expect to find even older remains: human fossils have been dated to 1.8 million years ago in Georgia and to 1.4 million years ago in Spain the Balkan crossroads lies right in the middle.

    Pešturina Cave has also given up other gifts as well. In the same level as the tooth, our team found a cave bear bone with a series of parallel cut marks made by stone tools. They’re not butchery cuts, and it looks like they might have a symbolic purpose. This would be a big deal because until recently, most researchers thought symbolism and artistic expression were uniquely modern human behaviours. This attitude is shifting, since we’ve recently discovered that Neanderthals probably adorned themselves with feathers, talons and shells and even painted their caves.

    Pešturina Cave, where the fossil was found. Dušan Mihailović , Author provided

    The tooth from Pešturina is a small but exciting step towards reconstructing the complex prehistory of human migration and cultural contact in the Central Balkans.

    In a collaboration between Belgrade University and the University of Winnipeg, we have been able to offer hands-on field experience to Canadian and international students. Through this collaboration, the Central Balkans will continue to give up more and more clues about our early ancestors and their relationship with the mysterious Neanderthals.


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