Fossils discovered in Israel indicate that mysterious archaic humans were still present in the Middle East 140,000 to 120,000 years ago when the first groups of our species arrived in the region.
If the data are confirmed by further discoveries, the scenarios explaining the spread of Homo sapiens across the planet and its relationship with other members of the human race will become much more complex than previously thought.
The researchers responsible for the finds did not risk naming the fossils found with a formal scientific name. In an article in this week’s issue of Science, they just use the phrase “Homo by Nesher Ramla”. It is an indication that the archaic humans they excavated belong to the same genus as H. sapiens and were found in the archaeological site of Nesher Ramla in central Israel, not far from the West Bank.
The team led by Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University analyzed both the anatomy of the bones of hominins (a term for the group of modern humans and their extinct close relatives) as well as the Stone Age technology they used and the remains of humans. Animals they hunted. The overall picture of their way of life is reminiscent of what is known about the earliest Homo sapiens and their cousins the Neanderthals, but the anatomical details of their bones do not coincide with the group or with any other known and baptized hominins.
“The combination of traits in Nesher Ramlas Homo is unique. In addition, the analysis of the shape of the skull and jaw places them in an intermediate position between Homo erectus and Neanderthals, ”explained Hershkovitz Folha via email.
H. erectus left Africa and began to colonize other regions of the Old World long before the genesis of our species, more than 1.5 million years ago, while Neanderthals were more or less contemporaries of humans in modern anatomy after only 35,000 years. The fact that Israel’s mysterious hominins stand midway between the two species and live of a relatively late age themselves would be an indication of a long persistence of these archaic forms in the Middle East.
So far, the Israeli team and its colleagues from other countries have only found the parietal bones (roughly the part of the skull that runs from the top of the head to the neck) and a jaw. The bones and teeth are sturdy and the cranial cavity has a smooth, low curvature compared to Homo sapiens, whose skull is much more rounded.
Animal bones found in the same location indicate that the ancient residents of Nesher Ramla were hunters with a varied diet, catching gazelles, deer, ostriches and even turtles.
To do this, they used stone spear points made with the so-called Levallois technique, in which a larger stone, the so-called core, was carefully prepared by removing chips around it until the instrument itself was detached from it.
It is the same technique long used by both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens (who only introduced more sophisticated stone tool production systems much later).
In fact, there is no difference between the Levallois tools used by the mysterious hominids and those of our species in Israel, which would indicate to the researchers an indication of the cultural interaction between the groups. “The different types of hominins that lived 100,000 years ago did not differ very much in terms of their cognitive and technological abilities,” summarizes Yossi Zaidner, researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and co-author of the study.