An ancient skull, said to be 55,000 years old, has been discovered in Israel. The discovery could shed light on the migration of modern humans out of Africa 60,000 years ago.
This migration led to the colonisation of the entire planet by humans as well as to the extinction of the neanderthals.
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The skull from Manot Cave dates to 55,000 years ago and may be the closest we’ve got to finding one of the earliest migrants from Africa.
Details appear in Nature journal.
“The skull is very gracile – there is nothing that makes it any different from a modern skull,” Prof Israel Hershkovitz, from Tel Aviv University, told the Nature podcast.
“But it also has traits that are found in older specimens.”
He added: “This is the first evidence that shows indeed there was a large wave of migrants out of East Africa, crossing the Sahara and the Nubian desert and inhabiting the eastern Mediterranean region 55,000 years ago. So it is really a key skull in understanding modern human evolution.”
Physical features of the skull, such as a distinctive “bun-shaped” region at the back, resemble those found in the earliest modern humans from Europe.
This “implies that the Manot people were probably the forefathers of many of the early, Upper Palaeolithic populations of Europe”, Prof Hershkovitz said.
Chris Stringer, research Leader in human origins at London’s Natural History Museum, commented: “Manot might represent some of the elusive first migrants in the hypothesised out-of-Africa event about 60,000 years ago, a population whose descendants ultimately spread right across Asia, and also into Europe.”
Prof Stringer, who was not involved with the study, added: “Its discovery raises hopes of more complete specimens from this critical region and time period.”
The find is also of interest because this individual lived at around the time when modern humans are thought to have interbred with Neanderthals.
All non-Africans possess a small amount of Neanderthal ancestry, pointing to an interbreeding event just after modern humans left their homeland but before they diversified into different populations.
The Middle East is a good candidate region for this event, because it was the first waypoint on the migration and previous discoveries show Neanderthals were there at the same time as moderns.
Details of another ancient human find were unveiled this week in the journal Nature Communications.
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