The mysterious archaic hominins of Israel evolutionarily related to Neanderthals

For a long time, it has been believed that Neanderthals originated and thrived on the European continent. However, recent morphological and genetic studies have suggested that they may have received a genetic contribution from a still unknown non-European group.

In a recent investigation, in which two independent international teams have participated, archaic Homo fossils have been discovered in the archaeological site of Nesher Ramla (Israel), whose dating gives them an age of between 140,000 and 120,000 years.

Bone analyzes reveal that this group of the genus Homo presents a distinctive combination of Neanderthal and archaic traits.

Analysis of both the fossils from this site and associated artifacts suggests that these specimens were among the last survivors of a Middle Pleistocene population that most likely participated in the evolution of Middle Pleistocene Homo in Europe and East Asia.

This group was characterized not only by a distinctive combination of Neanderthal and archaic human traits, but also by their use of technology that until recently was linked to more modern Homo lineages.

Neanderthals are supposed to have originated and thrived on the European continent long before the arrival of anatomically modern humans. However, recent evidence suggesting a genetic contribution from a yet unknown non-European group indicates a long and dynamic history of interactions between Eurasian and African hominin populations.

The teams of Israel Hershkovitz (Tel Aviv University in Israel) and Yossi Zaidner (Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel) have obtained evidence that illustrates this complexity.

Virtual reconstruction of the skull from the remains found. (Image: Tel Aviv University)

According to Hershkovitz’s team, Nesher Ramla’s newly discovered Homo exhibits more archaic anatomical features than his contemporary Eurasian Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans who also lived in the area. The findings indicate that this archaic lineage may represent one of the last surviving populations of Homo from the Middle Pleistocene in southwestern Asia, Africa, and Europe.

In another study, Yossi Zaidner’s team provides the archaeological context of the new fossils, reporting on the associated radiometric ages, artifact assemblages, and the environmental and behavioral insights they offer. Zaidner and his colleagues show that Nesher Ramla’s Homo had a good understanding of technologies previously only known to Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

Taken together, the findings provide archaeological support for the existence of close cultural interactions and genetic mixing between different human lineages more than 120,000 years ago.

These findings may help explain the variable expression of dental and skeletal features of later human fossils in the region. (Source: AAAS)

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