For those wishing for a “this changes everything” moment that doesn’t involve UFOs, this may be it. Human fossils discovered recently in Israel were revealed this week as a potential new species of ancient human – possibly the last survivors of a group that lived in this area between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago, and may have been the ancestors of the Neanderthals. Does that change enough for you?
“This is an extraordinary discovery. We never imagined that alongside Homo sapiens, archaic Homo roamed the area so late in human history.”
Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Yossi Zaidner describes in a press release how his team and researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) were working at a salvage excavation alongside construction of a new cement plant near Ramla, a city in the Central District of Israel. The site is filled with animal bones, stone tool and human bones and skulls – as expected in a region that once looked more like Africa with large animals for humans to hunt. What they didn’t expect to find was a jaw and partial skull that were neither Neanderthal nor archaic Homo. (Photos of the remains and the dig here.) Once they determined it was a different species, they named it Nesher Ramla Homo.
“We have shown that contrary to what was previously believed, the Neanderthals are not a European story, but very much a story of the Levant. Previously, it was thought that Neanderthals arrived in [what is now] Israel around 70,000 to 50,000 years ago from Europe. However, now we are talking about a population living here some 130,000 years ago.”
TAU anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz, co-author with Zaidner and others of the study published in the journal Science, says they found more members of this species at other prehistoric sites in Israel, which convinced them this huge population eventually migrated to Asia and Europe and became the Neanderthals. As expected, while Nesher Ramla Homo and Homo sapiens coexisted in the Ramla area, they shared food, technology … and beds.
“This evidence shows that these hominins had fully mastered technology that until only recently was linked to either Homo sapiens or Neanderthals. Nesher Ramla Homo was an efficient hunter of large and small game, used wood for fuel, cooked or roasted meat, and maintained fires. These findings provide archaeological support for cultural interactions between different human lineages during the Middle Paleolithic, suggesting that admixture between Middle Pleistocene Homo and H. sapiens had already occurred by this time.”
Co-author Dr. Rachel Sarig describes her ‘this changes everything’ view of the discovery by pointing out that this makes the Levant “a melting pot where different human populations mixed with one another, to later spread throughout the Old World”, while Dr. Zaidner thinks the tools used by Nesher Ramla Homo were constructed the same way modern humans made theirs, which requires visual and oral learning skills – not to mention sharing those skills among these different species.
“Our findings suggest that human evolution is far from simple and involved many dispersals, contacts and interactions between different species of human.”
These archaic humans weren’t so primitive after all. Too bad modern humans had to evolve.