Ancient skull offers clues to first modern Europeans

An international team has discovered a 55,000-year-old partial skull in northern Israel that provides new insights into the migration of modern humans out of Africa.

London: An international team has discovered a 55,000-year-old partial skull in northern Israel that provides new insights into the migration of modern humans out of Africa.

The rare partial skull was found at Manot Cave in Israel`s Western Galilee.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem`s cave research centre conducted an initial survey of the cave and reported the findings of archaeological remains.

The skull has a distinctive "bun"-shaped occipital region at the back.

In this way, its shape resembles modern African and European skulls, but differs from other anatomically modern humans from the Levant.

This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans that later colonised Europe.

"The specimen also provides evidence that both modern humans and Neanderthals inhabited the southern Levant during the late Pleistocene, close in time to the likely interbreeding event between modern humans and Neanderthals," said professor Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University who led the anthropological study of the skull.

The finding represents the first fossil evidence from the critical period when genetic and archaeological models predict that African modern humans successfully migrated out of Africa and colonized Eurasia.

It also represents the first fossil evidence that during the late Middle Paleolithic, the Levant was occupied not only by Neanderthals but also by modern humans.

The researchers suggest that the population from which this skull is derived had recently migrated out of Africa and established itself in the Levantine corridor during a time span that was favourable for human migration, due to warmer and wetter climatic events over the Northern Sahara and the Mediterranean.

The Manot Cave was discovered in 2008 during construction activities that damaged its roof.

Rock falls and active stalagmites had apparently blocked the initial entrance to the cave for at least 15,000 years.

The findings were reported in the journal Nature by an international team of Israeli, North American and European researchers.

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