June 30, 2022

Archaeological surveys for 2021 add key facts about human evolution

Published 12/31/2021 06:00


Somewhat overshadowed by covid-19 research on Archaeological investigations in 2021 It was significant, as at least two of them changed the facts about human evolution. In late June, an international team of scientists announced the discovery of a new human population in Archaeological site Nesher Ramle in Israel, similar to the pre-Neanderthal inhabitants of Europe. This challenged the prevailing hypothesis that Neanderthals originated from the ancient continent, suggesting that at least some of their ancestors came from the Levant. Two months later, a Dutch study showed that the expansion of firefighting – one of the most important cultural events in prehistoric times – happened 400,000 years ago, setting a date for an event that until then seemed insignificant.

The identification of a new human group indicates that two types of Homo groups lived side by side in the Levant for more than 100,000 years (200,000-100,000 years ago), and shared knowledge and tool techniques: the Nesher Ramla people, who inhabited the area around 400,000 years ago, and the Homo sapiens, which arrived later, about 200,000 years ago. This discovery also hints at a mystery in human evolution: How did the genes of Homo sapiens reach the Neanderthal community that supposedly lived in Europe long before the first? Researchers claim that some of the later hominid fossils found earlier in Israel, such as those excavated in the Skhul and Qafzeh Caves, do not belong to ancient (Neanderthal) Homo sapiens, but rather belong to mixed-lineage groups of Homo sapiens and Nesher Ramla.

Fossils of Homo necher Ramla have been dated from 140,000 to 120,000 years ago. According to the researchers, the morphology of these humans shared characteristics with Neanderthals (particularly the teeth and jaws) and Archaic humans (particularly the skull). At the same time, this type of man is completely different from modern man, showing a completely different skull structure, as well as the lack of a chin and very large teeth.

With this discovery, scientists believe Homo Nesher Ramla is the source population from which most humans evolved in the Middle Pleistocene. Furthermore, they suggest that this group is the so-called missing population that intermarried with Homo sapiens that recently arrived in the area – about 200,000 years ago – and about which some information is already available, thanks to another recent study of fossils found in the area, Misliya Cave in Israel as well. .

From 140,000 to 120,000 years ago, the fossils of Homo Nesher Ramla possessed characteristics of Neanderthals, such as jaws, and archaic humans, in particular, a skull.
From 140,000 to 120,000 years ago, the fossils of Homo Nesher Ramla possessed characteristics of Neanderthals, such as jaws, and archaic humans, in particular, a skull.
(Photo: Images: Gil Cohen-Magen/Courtesy)

Homo Nesher Ramla was ancestral to both Neanderthals in Europe and ancient Homo groups in Asia. “The discovery of a new species of man has been of great scientific interest. It allows us to give new meaning to previously discovered human fossils, add another piece to the puzzle of evolution, and understand human migrations in the ancient world. Long ago, in the late Middle Pleistocene (474 ​​thousand ago) 130,000 years ago), the inhabitants of Nesher Ramleh could tell us a wonderful story, revealing a lot about the evolution and way of life of their descendants,” explains Israel Hershkowitz, an anthropologist from Tel Aviv University and leader of the project.

Advanced technologies

The important human fossil was found by Yossi Zeidner of the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during excavations at the prehistoric site of Nesher Ramla in the mining area of ​​the Nesher cement factory near the city of Ramle. Professionals excavated about 8 meters, they found large amounts of animal bones, including horses, fallow deer and arches, as well as stone tools and human bones.

The international team led by researchers from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem determined that the bone morphology belongs to a new species of Homo, hitherto unknown to science. “This is an extraordinary find. We never imagined that, along with Homo sapiens, archaeological hominids roamed the region so late in human history. Archaeological finds associated with human fossils show that Homo Nesher Ramla had advanced techniques for producing fossils. Tools and may have interacted with Domestic Homo sapiens,” says Zeidner.

According to Hershkowitz, this discovery challenges the prevailing hypothesis that Neanderthals originated in Europe. “Before these new discoveries, most researchers believed that Neanderthals were a ‘European history,’ in which small groups of Neanderthals were forced to migrate south to escape the spread of glaciers, and some arrived in the Land of Israel about 70,000 years ago,” he says. . The fossils of Nesher Ramla, in turn, indicate that the ancestors of European Neanderthals lived in the Levant 400,000 years ago, and repeatedly migrated west to Europe and from the east to Asia. “In fact, our findings suggest that the famous Neanderthals of Western Europe are nothing but the remains of a much larger population that once lived here in the Levant – not the other way around.”

Various interactions

“People think in models,” says Rachel Sarrig of Tel Aviv University. “This is why efforts have been made to attribute these fossils to human groups known as Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis or Neanderthals. He points out that in Europe, where they evolved into the classic Neanderthals we know, as well as in Asia, where they became ancient groups with characteristics Similar to those of Neanderthals.

According to Marta Laar, a professor of archeology at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the study, the find provides archaeological support for close cultural interactions and genetic mixing between different human lineages 120,000 years ago. This may help explain the wide variation in tooth and skeletal characteristics from later Levantine fossils. “The interpretation of the Nesher Ramla fossils and its stone tools has received different reactions among paleoanthropologists. However, the age of Nesher Ramla’s material, the incompatible morphological and archaeological similarities, and the location of the site at the crossroads of Africa and Eurasia make it an important discovery.”

The use of fire was shared 400,000 years ago

    (credit: Leiden University/Disclosure)

Credit: Leiden University/Disclosure

Interaction with fire has been fundamental to human cultural evolution. There are archaeological records of the use of flames dating back 1.6 million years. But when this spread is still a matter of debate. According to a team from Leiden University and the Technological University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, humans controlled flames throughout the inhabited planet until then 400,000 years ago. This ability would revolutionize culture, culminating in the emergence of what is traditionally called modern Homo sapiens.

According to the researchers, while records of fire use prior to that time are few, from nearly 400,000 years ago, several different types of evidence of bonfires have been found in many places, with good preservation conditions. Interestingly, this occurs at a geologically similar time in large parts of the Old World, in Africa and Western Eurasia, and in various human groups.

The wide distribution of cultural behavior can be explained in several ways, the scientists explain: by independent invention in different places, population shifts, or linked gene transfer. For the study authors, the most appropriate argument for this case is the interaction between different human groups. It is an explanation supported by the spread, later on, of a relatively complex technique applied in the manufacture of stone tools, called the Levallois technique.

social structures

Eva van Veen from Eindhoven University of Technology said the social structures and behaviors surrounding the use of fire had not previously been discussed in detail. “Given the importance of social contact in human lives,” he says, “questions about the social structures surrounding early fire use are essential to understanding the full effects of widespread fire use.”

In her dissertation, she analyzed what it takes to organize a group of people to gather raw materials to make and sustain a fire. The discussions prompted Eva and many colleagues to think about social tolerance on a large scale and the networks involved in spreading firefighting skills.

“The copying of stone tool technology occurred at the beginning of human evolution, but about 400 thousand years ago, cultural diffusion really began,” says the scientist. “This long predates the cultural flourishing associated with late Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens. Our research should stimulate debate and new studies, particularly addressing the changes in the mechanisms of cultural transmission that enabled this remarkably rapid spread of fire and stone tool technology,” he believes. (soil)

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