The upper jawbone — which includes seven intact teeth and one broken incisor, and was described in a paper in the journal Science — provides fossil evidence that lends support to genetic studies that have suggested modern humans moved from Africa far earlier than had been suspected.“What I was surprised by was how well this new discovery fits into the new picture that’s emerging of the evolution of Homo sapiens,” said Julia Galway-Witham, a research assistant at the Natural History Museum in London who wrote an accompanying perspective article. Hawks and other researchers advised caution in interpreting the discovery.Although this ancient person may have shared some anatomical characteristics with present-day people, this “modern human” would have probably looked much different from anyone living in the world today.“Early modern humans in many respects were not so modern,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the department of human evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Hublin said that by concluding the jawbone came from a “modern human,” the authors were simply saying that the ancient person was morphologically more closely related to us than to Neanderthals.
The team had long known that ancient people lived in the Misliya Cave, which is a rock shelter with an overhanging ceiling carved into a limestone cliff.
By dating burned flint flakes found at the site, archaeologists had determined that it was occupied between 250,000 to 160,000 years ago, during an era known as the Early Middle Paleolithic.
“I believe them.”Next, the archaeologists determined the jawbone’s age by performing three dating techniques in Australia, France and Israel.“The dating had to be rock solid,” said Rolf M.
Quam, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York and an author of the paper.
There scientists were able to assess whether the bone belonged to a modern human or a Neanderthal, which are thought also to have occupied the region during that time period. Weber created a 3D replica of the upper left maxilla that allowed him to investigate its surface features and, virtually, to remove enamel from the teeth.