50,000-year-old Skull May Show Human-Neanderthal Hybrids Originated in Levant, not Europe as Thought
A 55,000-year-old skull found at Manot Cave in northern Israel is shedding light on the origins and migrations of ancient humanity. The skull, suggested to be evidence of a pairing between Neanderthals and modern humans, would be the earliest evidence of modern man meeting and mating with Neanderthals found to date.
According to ScienceDaily, the partial skull “provides evidence that both modern humans and Neanderthals inhabited the southern Levant during the late Pleistocene, close in time to the likely interbreeding event between modern humans and Neanderthals.” This would challenge the theory that two species connected 10,000 years later in Europe.
Newly-discovered skull from Manot Cave. Credit: Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority
Describing the significance of the partial skull find in the Manot Cave, the authors of the recent study published in the science journal Nature report, “It is similar in shape to recent African skulls as well as to European skulls from the Upper Palaeolithic period, but different from most other early anatomically modern humans in the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans who later successfully colonized Europe. Thus, the anatomical features used to support the ‘assimilation model’ in Europe might not have been inherited from European Neanderthals, but rather from earlier Levantine populations.”
The skeletal remains of a Neanderthal child (not from Manot). Wikimedia, (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Manot is a nearly-sealed prehistoric cave located in the rocky hills of western Galilee, Israel which was discovered in 2008 by spelunkers rappelling through a newly opened roof. Rockfalls had blocked the entrance off 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. Excavations since 2010 have uncovered a trove of charcoal, bones, flint, and archaeological artifacts dating to the Upper Paleolithic era, and have shown that it was intensely occupied during that period, notes the website Antiquity. According to reports from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Manot is found on the “the only land route available for ancient humans to travel out of Africa to the Middle East, Asia and Europe.”
Inside Manot Cave in northern Israel. Excavations have revealed artifacts and a partial skull dating back 50,000 years. Credit: Amos Frumkin / Hebrew University Cave Research Center
The skull is missing fragments that would allow researchers to know the owner’s gender. DNA extraction from the skull would reveal more, and would be a step toward confirming parentage and whether it is an ancestor of modern humans, but due to the hot climate of the area that is unlikely. However, the excavation team at Manot believe there are more fossils to be found in the cave.
Fossilized jawbone, dubbed Penghu 1, found submerged in seafloor near Taiwan. Dated between 10,000 and 190,000 years ago. Credit: Y. Kaifu, CC BY-NC-SA-4.0
Glenn Starkman, director of the Institute of the Science of Origins told CWRU, “Who we are, where we came from and how we got here are questions that have fascinated us humans since before there was history. We weaved wondrous myths that answered those questions definitively, but now we slowly accumulate evidence from the distant past.”
Featured Image: Neanderthal Hominid Skull, (not from Manot). North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM)/Flickr
By Liz Leafloor