Public Release: 

Oldest human fossil outside of Africa discovered, with tools nearby

American Association for the Advancement of Science

A human fossil found in Israel substantially shifts the estimated timeframe for when humans first left Africa, suggesting they did so approximately 40,000 to 50,000 years sooner than previously thought. Before this discovery, the earliest modern human fossils found outside of Africa were those estimated to be between 90,000 to 120,000 years old. Here, Israel Hershkovitz and colleagues describe a fossil found in Misliya Cave, Israel, that is estimated to be between 177,000 and 194,000 years old, based on three independent dating methods. Notably, this age is closer to the time of migration out of Africa that genetic studies suggest. The fossil the researchers uncovered, dubbed Misliya-1, exhibits teeth that are in the upper size range of what's seen in modern humans, but that otherwise shows clear patterns and features of our species. As well, the foramen and aspects of the skull support the classification of the specimen as human. The authors note that Misliya-1 lacks certain unique features of Neandertals and earlier hominin species, such as a low and broad tooth crown. Stone tools excavated near Misliya-1 are shaped in a sophisticated way, called the Levallois technique. Tools shaped this way have been discovered in a cave close by, but the material at Misliya represents the earliest known association of the Levallois technique with modern human fossils in the region. The results suggest that the emergence of this technology was linked to the appearance of Homo sapiens in this region, as has been documented in Africa. Chris Stringer and Julia Galway-Witham provide more context on Misliya-1 in a related Perspective.

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