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“Oldest” modern human remains identified in Israeli cave

Dec. 30, 2010
Courtesy of Tel Aviv University
and World Science staff

Ar­chae­o­lo­gists have an­nounced ev­i­dence that the mod­ern human spe­cies, Ho­mo sapi­ens, roamed what is to­day Is­ra­el as early as 400,000 years ago.

It’s the ear­li­est ev­i­dence for the ex­ist­ence of “mod­ern ma­n” any­where, the re­search­ers said, and un­der­mines a tra­di­tion­al view among sci­en­tists that our spe­cies emerged from Af­ri­ca some 200,000 years ago. 

Archaeologist Avi Go­pher holds a tooth found at Qe­sem Cave. (AP Im­ages/Od­ed Ba­li­lty)


Ar­chae­o­lo­gists Avi Go­pher and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv Uni­vers­ity in Is­ra­el and oth­er sci­en­tists an­a­lyzed eight hu­man teeth found in Qe­sem Cave near Rosh Ha’ayin, Is­ra­el. The find­ings are pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Phys­i­cal An­thro­po­l­ogy.

The stu­dy, us­ing CT scans and X-rays, in­di­cates that the size and shape of the teeth are very si­m­i­lar to those of mod­ern ma­n, the group said. The teeth al­so are said to re­sem­ble oth­er ev­i­dence of mod­ern man from two oth­er Is­ra­eli sites, dat­ed to around 100,000 years ago. 

Qe­sem Cave is dat­ed to a pe­ri­od be­tween 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, and ar­chae­o­lo­gists work­ing there be­lieve the find­ings in­di­cate sig­nif­i­cant ev­o­lu­tion in an­cient peo­ple’s be­hav­ior. This pe­ri­od was cru­cial in both our bi­o­log­i­cal and cul­tur­al his­to­ry, they added; the teeth un­der ex­amina­t­ion in­di­cate these de­vel­op­ments may be re­lat­ed to ev­o­lu­tion­ary changes then tak­ing place.

Go­pher and Barkai said the cul­ture of those who dwelt in the Qe­sem Ca­ve at the time in­clud­ed reg­u­lar use of fire, hunt­ing, cut­ting and shar­ing of an­i­mal meat, and min­ing raw ma­te­ri­als to make flint blades. This re­in­forces a view that this was in­no­va­tive and pi­o­neer­ing be­hav­ior that may cor­re­spond with the ap­pear­ance of mod­ern ma­n, they added.

In re­cent years, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence and skele­tons found in Spain and Chi­na al­so un­der­mined the prop­o­si­tion that mod­ern hu­ma­ns evolved in Af­ri­ca, ac­cord­ing to the re­search­ers. Yet they de­scribed the Qe­sem Cave find­ings as un­prec­e­dent­ed be­cause of their early age.


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Archaeologists are announcing evidence that our species, Homo sapiens, roamed what is today Israel as early as 400,000 years ago. It’s the earliest evidence for the existence of “modern man” anywhere, the researchers said, and undermines a traditional view among scientists that our species emerged from Africa some 200,000 years ago. Archaeologists Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University in Israel and other scientists analyzed eight human teeth found in Qesem Cave near Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel. The findings are published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The study, using CT scans and X-rays, indicates that the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man, the group said. The teeth also resemble other evidence of modern man from two other Israeli sites, dated to around 100,000 years ago. Qesem Cave is dated to a period between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago; archaeologists working there believe the findings indicate significant evolution in ancient people’s behavior. This period was crucial in both our biological and cultural history, they added; the teeth under examination indicate these developments may be related to evolutionary changes then taking place. Gopher and Barkai said the findings relate to the culture of those who dwelt in the Qesem Cave, which included regular use of fire, hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat, and mining raw materials to make flint blades. This reinforces a view that this was innovative and pioneering behavior that may correspond with the appearance of modern man, they added. In recent years, archaeological evidence and skeletons found in Spain and China also undermined the proposition that modern humans evolved in Africa, according to the researchers. Yet they described the Qesem Cave findings as unprecedented because of their early age.