55,000-year-old skull links modern man in vicinity of Neanderthals

Modern Europeans have inherited about 4 percent of their genes from Neanderthals, meaning the two groups mated at some point in the past. But the question is, where and when?Characteristics of a partial skull recently discovered in Manot Cave in Israel’s West Galilee provide the earliest evidence that modern humans co-inhabited the area with Neanderthals and could have met and interbred 55,000 years ago.

The finding—which challenges a previous hypothesis that the two species potentially met 45,000 years ago somewhere in Europe—is reported in the Advance Online Publication Nature article, “Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the First European modern humans.”

“It has been suspected that modern man and Neanderthals were in the same place at the same time, but we didn’t have the physical evidence. Now we do have it in the new skull fossil,” said paleontologist Bruce Latimer, from Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine’s Department of Orthodontics.

The finding of Neanderthals living at other Levantine sites in the eastern Mediterranean region places the two species in the same area at about the same time. The Manot cave is located in the region where Neanderthals periodically lived, perhaps when ice sheets in Europe forced them to migrate to warmer locales, like the Levant region.

Manot is a prehistoric cave with an impressive archaeological sequence and spectacular speleothems. To date, five excavation seasons (2010-2014) have been conducted in the cave on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The cave is situated along the only land route available for ancient humans to travel out of Africa to the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Via 55,000-year-old skull links modern man in vicinity of Neanderthals.

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