Will Dunham, Reuters, January 28, 2015
A partial skull retrieved from a cave in northern Israel is shedding light on a pivotal juncture in early human history when our species was trekking out of Africa to populate other parts of the world and encountered our close cousins the Neanderthals.
Scientists said on Wednesday the upper part of the skull, the domed portion without the face or jaws, was unearthed in Manot Cave in Israel’s Western Galilee. Scientific dating techniques determined the skull was about 55,000 years old.
The researchers said characteristics of the skull, dating from a time period when members of our species were thought to have been marching out of Africa, suggest the individual was closely related to the first Homo sapiens populations that later colonized Europe.
They also said the skull provides the first evidence that Homo sapiens inhabited that region at the same time as Neanderthals, our closest extinct human relative.
Previous genetic evidence suggests our species and Neanderthals interbred during roughly the time period represented by the skull, with all people of Eurasian ancestry still retaining a small amount of Neanderthal DNA as a result.
“It is the first direct fossil evidence that modern humans and Neanderthals inhabited the same area at the same time,” said paleontologist Bruce Latimer of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, another of the researchers.