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    120,000-year-old fossils link to human family tree

    Christina Larson

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Bones found in an Israeli quarry are from a branch of the human evolutionary tree and are 120,000 to 140,000 years old, scientists reported on Thursday.

    A team of anthropologists spent years analysing the fragments of a skull, lower jaw bone and tooth that were uncovered in Nesher Ramla in 2010, comparing them to hundreds of fossils around the world from different eras.

    The researchers determined that the fossils likely came from a hominin group closely related to Neanderthals and sharing many of their features, such as the shape of the lower jaw. The scientists also believe that there are enough similarities to link this group to other populations found in prior cave excavations in Israel dating to around 400,000 years ago.

    “The teeth have some unique features that enable us to draw a line between these populations,” said Tel Aviv University dental anthropologist Rachel Sarig, a co-author of the paper published on Thursday in the journal Science.

    This group probably inhabited the region from around 400,000 to 100,000 years ago, said Tel Aviv University physical anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz, another co-author. He said the remains found at Nesher Ramla are likely from “some of the last survivors of a once very dominant group in the Middle East”.

    Prior research has shown that homo sapiens – modern humans – also lived in the region at the same time. Many scientists believe that the arrival of homo sapiens in Europe presaged the decline of Neanderthals there, but the story may have been different in the Levant region — the crossroads between North Africa and Eurasia.

    The new findings add to research showing that homo sapiens and Neanderthal-like groups overlapped in the Middle East over a significant amount of time, probably tens of thousands of years.

    A human ancestor mandible and skull discovered in Neher Ramla, Israel. PHOTO: AP
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