Ancient Skull Teases History of Early Humans And Migration - Update
Researchers may have found the first location where humans and Neanderthals lived together... and perhaps really got to know each other.
Update: Scientists state that this discovery could help determine when early humans left Africa for the Middle East, Europe, and parts beyond. They argue that the skull represents a bridged gap between the early humans of Africa, and the neanderthal's found farther north. After these species met and started to interbreed, the offspring would eventually spread across Europe.
"Before now we had a theory, but we didn't have the evidence. We didn't have the smoking gun," said Israel Hershkovitz, leader of the study, and professor of anatomy at Tel Aviv University. "This is the first specimen that connects the continents."
Early humans and neanderthals are believed to have come from the same distant relative in Africa hundreds thousands of years before, only to break off from one another (both in features and in location). The re-merging of the two later on was always believed, but never definitively proven.
The 55,000-year-old mark was reached via radioactive dating. Other caves in Israel hold human remains that go back even further -- 100,000 years, give or take.
The human-neanderthal co-mingling is still in theory territory, as scientists search for additional evidence in the region. A site with both neanderthal and human remains has yet to be found.
If you watched X-Men: First Class, perhaps you remember Charles Xavier's thesis, which suggested humans and Neanderthals wiped each other out due to innate differences. It's a theory science actually believed for a very long time, but increasingly it seems our ancestors took a different approach - a sexy approach. Genetic studies have uncovered evidence that some humans and Neanderthals interbred instead of fighting, creating a mixed species that influenced modern humans. Now a new paper suggests a possible location for where this merge first began: Galilee, Israel.
The conclusion is based on a 55,000-year old human skull uncovered in a cave in western Galilee. The skull itself, dubbed "Manot", represents the first human living in the region during an era when Neanderthals dominated the region. "Manot clearly shows that Neanderthals and modern humans lived side by side in Israel for a long period of time," Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University explained.
There's still a great deal we don't know Manot - we're pretty sure the skull was female, but the missing brow ridge makes it hard to tell for sure. It's also not entirely clear whether Manot was part of a wave colonizing Europe and Asia, or came from an earlier colonization effort that failed. We're also still waiting to see if Manot is a human-Neanderthal descendant, which needs to be confirmed by DNA anaylsis. Either way, she marks the earliest point when humans and Neanderthals lived side-by-side, a likely time frame for some inter-species loving.
Even if Manot personally wasn't interested in human-Neanderthal fun time, we know it occurred in the era. Genetic studies in 2010 proved that 2% of genomes in Europeans and Asians consist of Neanderthal DNA. Later research determined that some amount of interbreeding happened 50,000-60,000 years ago, which fits Manot's lifespan. Hopefully this discovery will shed more light on their history of our ancestors... even if all we learn about are their bedroom habits.
Source: Nature, via Washington Post