In yet another shake-up of the established timeline of our species, researchers have uncovered the oldest modern human fossil outside of Africa, and it is much older than expected.
Discovered in what is now Israel, the partial jawbone dates to between 175,000 and 200,000 years old, pushing back when we thought modern humans migrated out of Africa by a hefty 50,000 years. Interestingly, this is consistent with what the genetics tells us and also lines up nicely with human fossils found in eastern Asia and Australia that suggest people got there by around 120,000 years ago.
“Misliya is an exciting discovery,” says Binghamton University's Rolf Quam, who co-authored the study published in Science, in a statement. “It provides the clearest evidence yet that our ancestors first migrated out of Africa much earlier than we previously believed.”
This find makes it even more likely that when our ancestors left Africa, they bumped into a whole menagerie of other archaic human species. From the Neanderthals (who were known to have lived as far south as Israel) to the Denisovans in Siberia and Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis in Asia, the world was thronging with hominins.
The site at Misliya not only contains human fossils but is also littered with tools they made, lead researcher Israel Hershkovitz told IFLScience. “Unlike East African specimens, the Misliya specimen came from a clear archeological context, [as] more than 60,000 flints have been discovered in the layers excavated during the years. This allowed us a glance into the lifestyle of our remote ancestors.”
It seems that these ancient people were living in caves in the region, crafting tools from local flint to hunt the large herbivores that dotted the Mediterranean landscape and then cooking them on fires.