55,000-year-old skull discovered in Israel’s Manot Cave
Between 40,000–60,000 years ago, Homo sapiens—modern humans—traveled from Africa through the Middle East to Eurasia, gradually replacing all other human groups during this pivotal period in human evolution. A 55,000-year-old skull discovered in northern Israel could point to where modern humans interbred with Neanderthals, filling in a gap in the fossil record for this critical evolutionary event.
The results of the study on the skull were recently published in the scientific journal Nature. Uranium-thorium dating conducted on the skull confirms that it’s about 55,000 years old, and the shape of the skull indicates that it belonged to a modern human.
“The southern Levant is the only place where anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals were living side by side for thousands and thousands of years,” Tel Aviv University physical anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz, who led the study, told Nature News & Comment.
“The Manot people are probably the forefathers of the early Palaeolithic populations of Europe,” Hershkovitz added.
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Amateur speleologists exploring Manot Cave in the western Galilee in 2008 discovered the skull. Soon afterward, the Israel Antiquities Authority began archaeological excavations in the cave, uncovering evidence of human occupation that seem to date to a period later than the skull. Further excavations may reveal artifacts associated with the period to which the skull is dated.
“This specimen is really important and exciting, as—assuming the dating is correct—it shows for the first time that modern humans existed in the Near East at the same time as Neanderthals,” University of Tübingen palaeoanthropologist Katerina Harvati explained to Nature News & Comment. “Until now we had no evidence that the two even coexisted in this region during this time period. So this is a crucial piece of the puzzle.”
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