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Palaeontology

New type of ancient human discovered in Israel

June 25, 2021 | Comment icon 4 comments



Image Credit: Avi Levin and Ilan Theiler, Sackler / Tel Aviv University
Named 'Nesher Ramla Homo', this previously unknown species of human walked the Earth 120,000 years ago.
An international group of archaeologists have discovered a missing piece in the story of human evolution.

Excavations at the Israeli site of Nesher Ramla have recovered a skull that may represent a late-surviving example of a distinct Homo population, which lived in and around modern-day Israel from about 420,000 to 120,000 years ago.

As researchers Israel Hershkovitz, Yossi Zaidner and colleagues detail in two companion studies published today in Science, this archaic human community traded both their culture and genes with nearby Homo sapiens groups for many thousands of years.

The new fossils

Pieces of a skull, including a right parietal (towards the back/side of the skull) and an almost complete mandible (jaw) were dated to 140,000-120,000 years old, with analysis finding the person it belonged to wasn't fully H. sapiens.

Nor were they Neanderthal, however, which was the only other type of human thought to have been living in the region at the time.

Instead, this individual falls right smack in the middle: a unique population of Homo never before recognised by science.

Through detailed comparison with many other fossil human skulls, the researchers found the parietal bone featured "archaic" traits that are substantially different from both early and recent H. sapiens. In addition, the bone is considerably thicker than those found in both Neanderthals and most early H. sapiens.

The jaw too displays archaic features, but also includes forms commonly seen in Neanderthals.

The bones together reveal a unique combination of archaic and Neanderthal features, distinct from both early H. sapiens and later Neanderthals.

Are there are more of these people?

The authors suggest fossils found at other Israeli sites, including the famous Lady of Tabun, might also be part of this new human population, in contrast to their previous Neanderthal or H. sapiens identification.

The "Lady of Tabun" (known to archaeologists as Tabun C1) was discovered in 1932 by pioneering archaeologist Yusra and her field director, Dorothy Garrod.

Extensively studied, this important specimen taught us much about Neanderthal anatomy and behaviour in a time when very little was known about our enigmatic evolutionary cousins.

If Tabun C1 and others from the Qesem and Zuttiyeh Caves were indeed members of the Nasher Ramel Homo group, this reanalysis would explain some inconsistencies in their anatomy previously noted by researchers.

The mysterious Nesher Ramla Homo may even represent our most recent common ancestor with Neanderthals. Its mix of traits supports genetic evidence that early gene flow between H. sapiens and Neanderthals occurred between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. In other words, that interbreeding between the different Homo populations was more common than previously thought.

Even more puzzling, the team also found a collection of some 6,000 stone tools at the Nesher Ramla site.

These tools were made the same way contemporaneous H. sapiens groups made their technology, with the similarity so strong it appears the two populations - Nesher Ramla Homo and H. sapiens - were hanging out on a regular basis. It seems they weren't just exchanging genes, but also tips on tool-making.

And there was fire!

The site also produced bones of animals caught, butchered, and eaten on-site. These findings indicate Nesher Ramla Homo hunted a range of species, including tortoise, gazelle, aurochs, boar and ostrich.

Furthermore, they were using fire to cook their meals, evident through the uncovering of a campfire feature the same age as the fossils. Indeed, the Nesher Ramla Homo were not only collecting wood to make campfires and cook, but were also actively managing their fires as people do today.

While the earliest indications of controlled use of fire is much older - perhaps one million years ago - the interesting thing about this particular campfire is the evidence that Nesher Ramla people tended to it as carefully as contemporary H. sapiens and Neanderthals did their own fires.

Most impressive is that the campfire feature survived, intact, outside of a protected cave environment for so long. It is now the oldest intact campfire ever found in the open air.

In sum, if we think of the story of human evolution like an Ikea bookcase that isn't quite coming together, this discovery is effectively like finding the missing shelf buried at the bottom of the box. The new Nesher Ramla Homo allows for a better-fitting structure, although a few mysterious "extra" pieces remain to be pondered over.

For example, exactly how did the different Homo groups interact with each other? And what does it mean for the cultural and biological changes that were occurring for Homo populations in this period?

Continuing to work with these questions (the "extra pieces") will help us build a better understanding of our human past.

Michelle Langley, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article. The Conversation

Source: The Conversation | Comments (4)



Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Manwon Lender 4 months ago
Hey my friend this is very interesting and this is the first I have heard of it. I am including a Peer Reviewed Paper on the subject that adds a great deal of additional information to this thread, hope you don't mind. Landscapes, depositional environments and human occupation at Middle Paleolithic open-air sites in the southern Levant, with new insights from Nesher Ramla, Israel https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/54262923/Zaidner_et_al_2016_QSR.pdf?1503903838=&response-content-disposition=inline%3B+filename%3DLandscapes_depositional_environments
Comment icon #2 Posted by fred_mc 4 months ago
It was a fascinating world people were living in then, a "Lord of the Rings" type of world with many species coexisting side by side.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Still Waters 4 months ago
Your link doesn't work. I think you mean this: https://www.academia.edu/34374827/Landscapes_depositional_environments_and_human_occupation_at_Middle_Paleolithic_open_air_sites_in_the_southern_Levant_with_new_insights_from_Nesher_Ramla_Israel There's a shorter version here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277379116300488
Comment icon #4 Posted by Manwon Lender 4 months ago
Thank you very much, it seems some of the Acedemic sites I am a member of don't allowthe links to be shared! Than you very much for your help!


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