A fossilized jaw bone discovered in Israel has shifted all modern knowledge of human history. Until recently, fossils, genetics, and archaeology provided multiple lines of evidence that indicated modern humans migrated from Africa around 60,000 years ago. This prehistoric jawbone, however, is dated to nearly 200,000 years old—more than twice as old as any Homo Sapiens remains previously found outside of Africa.
The well-preserved fossil is an upper jawbone with eight teeth. The teeth are larger than modern human teeth, but the shape and anatomy of the fossil are unmistakably Homo Sapiens.
Besides the discovery of the fossilized jaw bone, other sophisticated tools and blades were found near Misliya cave.These sophisticated tools indicate that the previous owners were apt hunters who used slings and carved blades to hunt a variety of wild animals. Additionally, the team discovered evidence of multipurpose plant-based matting that could have been used as sleeping mats. The tools and fossils at the site were all radioactively dated to be 177,000-194,000 years old, which is consistent with the jaw fossil.
This newly uncovered evidence from Misliya cave could serve as the cornerstone to better understanding of human evolution, as it suggests that multiple waves of ancestral migration occurred, dispersing modern humans across Europe and Asia. In addition, this could also signify that previous humans were interacting and potentially mating with each other for tens of thousands of years.
These findings also raise the possibility that the eastern Mediterranean served as a crossroads for previous ancestors and Neanderthals. Neanderthals at this time would have already been localized in Europe, and previous discoveries have shown interbreeding with human ancestors and Neanderthals. In fact, current Eurasians carry between 1-4% Neanderthal DNA, further validating the interspecies interactions. Recent DNA analysis of a Neanderthal leg bone found in Germany implied that encounters occurred as early as 200,000 years ago and this jawbone discovery adds credibility to this theory.
Although Neanderthal blood runs through Eurasian veins, the past humans whose remains were found at the Misliya cave were probably not ancestors of any modern humans. This could have occurred for a variety of reasons, the most likely being natural selection. Like other species, some previous human lineages did not experience successful procreation and eventually were unable to sustain their family lines. As a result, their genes went extinct when they had to compete with other modern humans that were migrating out of Africa at that time.
Scientists must now reconstruct a portion of the timeline of human evolution. This discovery pushes human history back from 200,000 B.C.E. to around 500,000 B.C.E. Despite shedding light on previous puzzling discoveries―120,000 year old bones found in China―this breakthrough raises questions surrounding the first migrants. In particular, researchers must search for the cause of failed settlement experienced by the first pioneers, and the shift that allowed for future success.
While some courses of human evolution may forever be lost to the depths of time, the uncovering of evidence leaves modern humans with a clearer picture of the past. With the knowledge of human evolution scientists can better understand the biology of humans and the process of evolution, an understanding that holds great weight for future scientific findings.