News Release

New fossils reveal previously unknown population of archaic hominin from the Levant

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

In two companion studies, researchers reveal a previously unknown population of archaic hominin- the "Nesher Ramla Homo" - from a recently excavated site in Israel dated to roughly 140,000 to 120,000 years ago. Analysis of both the fossils and associated artifacts from the site suggests that the group represents a last surviving population of Middle Pleistocene Homo, characterized by a distinctive combination of Neanderthal and archaic human features and technology that until only recently was linked to more modern Homo lineages. It's been assumed that Neanderthals originated and thrived on the European continent well before the arrival of modern humans. However, recent evidence suggests a genetic contribution from a yet unknown non-European group, indicating a long and dynamic history of interaction between Eurasian and African hominin populations. Here, Israel Hershkovitz, Yossi Zaidner and colleagues present fossil, artifact, and radiometric evidence from the Levant region of the Middle East that illustrates this complexity. According to Hershkovitz et al., the newly discovered Nesher Ramla Homo exhibits anatomical features that are more archaic than contemporaneous Eurasian Neanderthals and the modern humans who also lived in the Levant. The findings indicate that this archaic lineage may represent one of the last surviving populations of Middle Pleistocene Homo in southwest Asia, Africa and Europe. In the companion study, Zaidner et al. provide the archaeological context of the new fossils, reporting on the associated radiometric ages, artifact assemblages and the behavioral and environmental insights they offer. Zaidner et al. show that the Nesher Ramla Homo were well versed in technologies that were previously only known among H. sapiens and Neanderthals. Together, the findings provide archaeological support for close cultural interactions and genetic admixture between different human lineages before 120,000 years ago. This may help explain the variable expression of the dental and skeletal features of later Levantine fossils. "The interpretation of the Nesher Ramla fossils and stone tools will meet with different reactions among paleoanthropologists. Notwithstanding, the age of the Nesher Ramla material, the mismatched morphological and archaeological affinities, and the location of the site at the crossroads of Africa and Eurasia make this a major discovery," writes Marta Lahr in an accompanying Perspective.


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