Jawbone fossil found in Israeli cave resets clock for modern human evolution | The Times of Israel
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Well, I no more than “hung up from talking to you” in my last post than I found this terrific summary from NatGeo that confirms what I just said and adds some additional helpful explanation. BTW, the noted French researcher Jean-Jaques Hublin quoted in this coverage has lately been doing some kind of research that includes my earlier fossil bone paper. I’m seeing his name pop up on Academe, a research exchange site. I would bet it’s further work on this specimen since about 3/4ths of our material also came from Israeli cave sites.
Oldest Human Fossil Outside Africa Discovered
Part of an upper jaw found in Israel reveals that our species began making forays out of Africa more than 50,000 years earlier than thought. Read the full story
Here’s the lead from a different article about the same find that I read earlier today:
“Scientists on Thursday announced the discovery of a fossilized human jawbone in a collapsed cave in Israel that they said is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old.
If confirmed, the find may rewrite the early migration story of our species, pushing back by about 50,000 years the time that Homo sapiens first ventured out of Africa.
Previous discoveries in Israel had convinced some anthropologists that modern humans began leaving Africa between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago. But the recently dated jawbone is unraveling that narrative.”
So let’s break this down a little.
For starters, my source article calls the discovery a “jawbone”. It wasn’t. That would be a mandible. This discovery was a maxilla, the upper part of the mouth.
Next let’s clear up another point of common confusion. By referring to this specimen as an “early modern human” we’re distinguishing this discovery from older hominids usually referred to by their familiar names like Neanderthal or Erectus. Those dudes were in the same biological clade we are – Homo – but they were not our species, Homo sapiens. This new discovery is Homo sapiens and at the moment, the earliest ever discovered outside of Africa.
This discovery has a preliminary dating bracketed somewhere over 177kya. The previously oldest known modern humans from that area were bracketed to be at most 120kya. So the minimum date here moves the occupation by early modern humans in the Levant back at least 57,000 years. Possibly quite a bit more. That’s news Item No. 1.
News Item No. 2 is the beautiful state of preservation the maxilla is in. Just from the publicity shot of the teeth, it’s very clear they are modern human teeth and not those of one of our extinct ancestors. But let me be clear, when I say “modern human” I’m not talking about someone as handsome as I am. This guy or gal would have been pretty rough looking by our cultural standards today. All “modern human” means here is that they bore all the attributes of modernity in brain size, jaw construction and a host of other anatomical distinctions that make us us and not Homo Antecessor.
News Item No. 3 comes from a site in Morocco called Jebel Irhoud where in an earlier announcement, field researchers there recently discovered early moderns dated waaaaay older than this Israeli find, at ~300kya. Side note: This discovery was deeply satisfying to me personally as I had thrown my lot in with the side that thought early humans had to be more than the 180,000 years they had been estimated to be by one faction of physical anthropologists. It’s always good to know you can trust your gut.
The connection between the Moroccan discovery and this Israeli discovery is that it means that “early modern humans” were stomping around Northern Africa for a long time. So discovering that they at some point had crossed into the area now occupied by Israel is not only not surprising, it would have almost been expected. It will be interesting to see how far north and east other such discoveries take them (early moderns) during this same time frame. But that could take a long time to learn. Probably neither of us will be here when such material comes to light.
One last note before i finish putting you to sleep. Discoveries such as this are ongoing. Within the discipline, they are expected and hoped for. The significance of the “rewrite” is not that some grand theory has been knocked off it’s pedestal. It’s that it’s been expanded and either confirmed or modified.
What’s exciting about this stuff is how very very ancient our kind are and how much we still have to learn about where they emerged from and how they developed. These two discoveries are major pieces of a puzzle people will still be playing with long after both of us are gone.
As a general image “resets clock” is close enough. The writer is trying to say that we’ve now added about another 60,000 years, give or take, to the amount of time we already knew AMH (anatomically modern humans) were in the ME. The metaphor refers to where we understood “the clock” to be set before.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s 3,000 words to give you a much clearer idea of who we’re talking about and how they track thru time. Note that these are all African specimens and we do not yet have a complete cranium of the Israeli discovery to compare to. But here are three good examples of Anatomically Modern Humans:
Omo Kibish (Ethiopia) dated to 195,000
Florisbad (South Africa, 260,000 years old
Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) dated to about 300,000 years ago