Scientists have discovered the oldest known modern human fossil outside of Africa, estimated to be between 177,000 and 194,000 years old, according to a new study in the journal Science. The fossil of an upper jawbone that included several teeth was found in a prehistoric cave site, Misliya Cave, in Israel. Stone tools were also recovered at the site.
This suggests that modern humans may have been on the move, specifically migrating from Africa, at least 50,000 years earlier than previously believed. It helps to explain previous findings of modern human fossils in other parts of the world, which have been dated 90,000 to 120,000 years ago.
This rewrites the timeline of what we know about how Homo sapiens spread.
“We now have clear fossil evidence that modern humans moved out of Africa earlier than we previously believed,” Rolf Quam, study coauthor and anthropology professor at Binghamton University, said in an email. “There have been previous suggestions of a possible earlier migration, relying on both archaeological sites and ancient DNA studies, but now we have an actual human fossil that proves it.”
Three different dating techniques were used to confirm the fossil’s age and classify it as Homo sapien, rather than Neanderthal or some other early human ancestor.
The features of the jaw and teeth are unmistakably human, the researchers said.
Stone tools recovered at the site further confirm the age and technology being used by these modern humans. They were shaped in a unique way called the Levallois technique, where stones were flaked around the edges to achieve a sophisticated point used in hunting. The discovery of the tools along with the fossil in this location is the earliest known association between the two in the region.
Finding the tools and fossil in such close proximity also suggests that Homo sapiens introduced this technology to the area when they appeared.