Ancient skull from Galilee reveals humans from Near East colonized Europe

Ancient skull from Israel reveals humans from Near East colonized Europe

An ancient skull from Israel, specifically found in a Galilee cave, offers clues to the events following the migration of modern humans out of Africa. Discovered by researchers from Israel, the rare find provides a new insight regarding human migration and the subsequent expansion of human population in Asia and Europe.

A critical event in the history of modern human and human civilization was the explosion of human population outside Africa and across the continents of Europe and Asia. This event replaced all other forms of hominids around 40,000 to 60,000 years ago.

Although a considerable portion of the scientific community would agree that modern humans originated from Africa about 200,000 years ago, there remains a great discord as regards the involving migration pattern.

Some theorized that Homos sapiens from Africa migrated directly to the Levantine Corridor in modern Middle East as early as 100,000 years ago. Fossil records support this theory. However, according to genetic testing, modern humans descended from a single group that migrated out of Africa 70,000 years ago. A gap of 30,000 years thereby creates a discrepancy between the fossil records and genetic evidences.

Nonetheless, the recent discovery of a 55,000-year-old partial skull in the Manot Cave in Western Galilee, Northern Israel bridges the gap in the contradicting theories.

Discovered by accident in 2008 during a construction activity, the Manot Cave remained intact due to boulders and active stalagmites that blocked tits entrance for at least 15,000 years. Initial survey conducted by the Cave Research Center of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem revealed that the cave contained archeological remains.

Ancient skull from Israel reveals humans from Near East colonized Europe

This is the interior of the Manot Cave in Galilee, in Northern Israel where a 55,000-year-old skull offers clues on modern human migration patterns. Photo credit: Amos Frumkin/Hebrew University Cave Research Center

Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University spearheaded the excavation and the anthropological study of the skull together with Dr. Ofer Marder of Ben-Gurion University and Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The morphology of the skull indicates that it is that of a modern human of African origin, bearing characteristics of early European Upper Paleolithic populations. This suggests that the Levantine populations were ancestral to earlier European populations,” said Hershkovitz. “This study also provides important clues regarding the likely inbreeding between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals.”

In other words, humans reached the Levantine Corridor first when they migrated out of Africa around 75,000 years ago. This Levantine people settled for a considerable amount of time, establishing communities in the Fertile Crescent or Mesopotamia due to its warm and favorable climate. Migrating immediately to Europe was impossible because the continent was under weather extremities due to the prevailing effects of the last Ice Age period. The harsh environment rendered Europe inhospitable.

The Levantine population, however, subsequently moved to the area of modern-day Israel, including the Manot area, before finally migrating to Europe around 45,000 years ago.

“All of this confirms that people in Manot came from Africa, stayed in Israel for several thousand years, and later, when weather conditions improved, moved to Europe. The Manot people are indeed the ancestors of European populations,” said Hershkovitz.

Another interesting takeaway from the study is the apparent rendezvous between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. The Homo sapiens population in Manot that came from the Levantine Corridor had met and interbred with the Homo neanderthalensis population in Israel.

“When the Manot people came to Israel, they encountered a flourishing population of Neanderthals, with whom they must have communicated, shared tools and interbred with,” said Hershkovitz. “According to our analysis of the skull, which bears a complex mix of archaic and modern characteristics, this was probably the only place on earth where Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans lived side by side for a long period of time.”

Further details of the study is contained in the paper “Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans” that appeared in the journal Nature.

Photo credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority