A Middle Pleistocene Homo from Nesher Ramla, Israel

Science

Science Magazine 24 June, 2021 - 12:50pm 62 views

Unknown human ancestor unearthed in Israel. It had large teeth but no chin.

Livescience.com 24 June, 2021 - 01:49pm

Mysterious human may have been the ancestor of Neanderthals.

The new fossils were unearthed in 2010 near the city of Ramla in central Israel, after quarrying in the mining area of the Nesher cement plant revealed what is now known as the Nesher Ramla prehistoric site. After digging down about 26 feet (8 meters), the researchers found stone tools and human bones, as well as large quantities of animal bones, including the remains of horses, deer and extinct cattle known as aurochs.

It took scientists a better part of a decade to figure out what they had. "People think it's simple to quickly analyze fossils, but it takes a lot of time," Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University and lead author of one of the two studies on the discovery, told Live Science. "Once you find the fossils, you have to clean them and reconstruct them and then collect comparable material around the world to properly understand them."

After all that work, the researchers identified the Nesher Ramla bones as belonging to a new type of Homo, or member of the human family tree, previously unknown to science. They dated the fossils and found them to be about 120,000 to 140,000 years old.

The Nesher Ramla bones share features with Neanderthals, especially in the teeth and jaws, but these mystery humans had skulls more closely resembling those of more archaic human lineages, the scientists noted. And this new type of Homo is very unlike modern humans, possessing a completely different skull structure, no chin and very large teeth.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Yossi Zaidner and his colleagues found stone tools linked with the Nesher Ramla bones, such as points that could later be hafted onto shafts to form spears or arrows. The specific way of crafting these artifacts was previously seen only among modern humans and Neanderthals.

Hershkovitz and his colleagues were not able to recover DNA from these fossils. "The problem in Israel is that we live in a hot country," Hershkovitz said. DNA can break down because of heat, "so we never manage to extract DNA from bones older than 15,000 years. We gave it a try, but we knew from the very beginning that our chances were basically nil."

Although these newfound fossils lack DNA, they may help solve a mystery in human evolution: How did modern-human DNA enter the gene pool of Neanderthals long before the groups met? Previous research suggested modern humans, or Homo sapiens, and European Neanderthals mated more than 200,000 years ago, long before archaeological evidence suggested modern humans first entered Europe about 45,000 years ago. Now, Hershkovitz and his colleagues suggest hybrids of modern humans and the Nesher Ramla group may have introduced modern-human DNA into European Neanderthals.

In fact, the researchers suggested that the Nesher Ramla humans may be the ancestors of Neanderthals. "Most researchers believe that Neanderthals started, developed and eventually finished in Europe. Here, we say that maybe Neanderthals were not European — that maybe there's a strong component from the Near East within the Neanderthal population of Europe," Hershkovitz said. "Nesher Ramla may have been the core population from which Europe was recolonized by Neanderthals between glacial periods."

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Sitting at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia, the Nesher Ramla group may have also migrated eastward. "This may help explain archaic fossils discovered in Asia with Neanderthal-like features," Hershkovitz said.

Hershkovitz admitted these ideas were provocative. "I can hear paleoanthropologists sharpening their knives now," he joked.

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Bizarre prehistoric skull could be ‘missing link’ in human evolution

New York Post 24 June, 2021 - 01:01pm

By Amanda Woods

June 24, 2021 | 2:01pm | Updated June 24, 2021 | 2:01pm

A bizarre prehistoric skull discovered in Israel — with a flat head, no chin and huge teeth — could be the “missing link” in human evolution, a new study revealed.

The hominin, or early human, was named Nesher Ramla, after the site where its skull, jaw and teeth were dug up from 26 feet below ground at a cement mining plant, SWNS reported.

“Around 140,000 years ago, a very unique group of people lived in Israel,” study co-author Professor Israel Hershkovitz, of Tel Aviv University, told the news service. “They are believed to be the ‘missing’ population that mated with Homo sapiens who arrived in the region around 200,000 years ago.”

The finding has been hailed as “one of the most important anthropological findings of the last century.”

Virtual 3D reconstructions were formed from the fossilized remains — which were discovered near stone stools as well as human and animal bones, including those of horses, fallow deer and aurochs, according to the report.

Sophisticated computer software programs compared the Nesher Ramla discovery with other hominins from Europe, Africa and Asia — and revealed that the population represents late survivors of a group who lived in the Middle East during the Middle Pleistocene period.

The findings challenge the idea that the Neanderthals’ ancestors originated in Europe — and point to at least some coming from the Levant, now known as the Middle East. 

“The oldest fossils that show Neandertal features are found in Western Europe, so researchers generally believe the Neanderthals originated there,” study co-author Professor Rolf Quam, an anthropologist at Binghamton University, told SWNS.

“However, migrations of different species from the Middle East into Europe may have provided genetic contributions to the Neanderthal gene pool during the course of their evolution.”

Hershkovitz said the finding adds “another piece to the puzzle of human evolution.”

“Even though they lived so long ago, in the late middle Pleistocene, the Nesher Ramla people can tell us a fascinating tale, revealing a great deal about their descendants’ evolution and way of life,” he said.

Archaeologists Make Dramatic Discovery: A Prehistoric Human Type Previously Unknown to Science

SciTechDaily 24 June, 2021 - 01:00pm

Static skull, mandible, and parietal orthographic. Credit: Tel Aviv University

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have identified a new type of early human at the Nesher Ramla site, dated to 140,000 to 120,000 years ago. According to the researchers, the morphology of the Nesher Ramla humans shares features with both Neanderthals (especially the teeth and jaws) and archaic Homo (specifically the skull). At the same time, this type of Homo is very unlike modern humans — displaying a completely different skull structure, no chin, and very large teeth.

Following the study’s findings, researchers believe that the Nesher Ramla Homo type is the ‘source’ population from which most humans of the Middle Pleistocene developed. In addition, they suggest that this group is the so-called ‘missing’ population that mated with Homo sapiens who arrived in the region around 200,000 years ago — about whom we know from a recent study on fossils found in the Misliya cave.

Two teams of researchers took part in the dramatic discovery, published in the prestigious Science journal: an anthropology team from Tel Aviv University headed by Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, Dr. Hila May and Dr. Rachel Sarig from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research and the Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute, situated in the Steinhardt Museum at Tel Aviv University; and an archaeological team headed by Dr. Yossi Zaidner from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Timeline: The Nesher Ramla Homo type was an ancestor of both the Neanderthals in Europe and the archaic Homo populations of Asia.

Prof.Israel Hershkovitz: “The discovery of a new type of Homo” is of great scientific importance. It enables us to make new sense of previously found human fossils, add another piece to the puzzle of human evolution, and understand the migrations of humans in the old world. Even though they lived so long ago, in the late middle Pleistocene (474,000-130,000 years ago), the Nesher Ramla people can tell us a fascinating tale, revealing a great deal about their descendants’ evolution and way of life.”

Fossil remains of skull and jaw. Credit: Tel Aviv University

The important human fossil was found by Dr. Zaidner of the Hebrew University during salvage excavations at the Nesher Ramla prehistoric site, in the mining area of the Nesher cement plant (owned by Len Blavatnik) near the city of Ramla. Digging down about 8 meters, the excavators found large quantities of animal bones, including horses, fallow deer and aurochs, as well as stone tools and human bones. An international team led by the researchers from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem identified the morphology of the bones as belonging to a new type of Homo, previously unknown to science. This is the first type of Homo to be defined in Israel, and according to common practice, it was named after the site where it was discovered — the Nesher Ramla Homo type.

Dr. Yossi Zaidner: “This is an extraordinary discovery. We had never imagined that alongside Homo sapiens, archaic Homo roamed the area so late in human history. The archaeological finds associated with human fossils show that “Nesher Ramla Homo” possessed advanced stone-tool production technologies and most likely interacted with the local Homo sapiens.” The culture, way of life, and behavior of the Nesher Ramla Homo are discussed in a companion paper also published in Science journal today (June 24, 2021).

Prof. Hershkovitz adds that the discovery of the Nesher Ramla Homo type challenges the prevailing hypothesis that the Neanderthals originated in Europe. “Before these new findings,” he says, “most researchers believed the Neanderthals to be a ‘European story’, in which small groups of Neanderthals were forced to migrate southwards to escape the spreading glaciers, with some arriving in the Land of Israel about 70,000 years ago. The Nesher Ramla fossils make us question this theory, suggesting that the ancestors of European Neanderthals lived in the Levant as early as 400,000 years ago, repeatedly migrating westward to Europe and eastward to Asia. In fact, our findings imply that the famous Neanderthals of Western Europe are only the remnants of a much larger population that lived here in the Levant — and not the other way around.”

(Left to Right): Israel Hershkovitz, Marion Prevost, Hila May, Rachel Sarig and Yossi Zaidner. Credit: Tel Aviv University

According to Dr. Hila May, despite the absence of DNA in these fossils, the findings from Nesher Ramla offer a solution to a great mystery in the evolution of Homo: How did genes of Homo sapiens penetrate the Neanderthal population that presumably lived in Europe long before the arrival of Homo sapiens? Geneticists who studied the DNA of European Neanderthals have previously suggested the existence of a Neanderthal-like population which they called the ‘missing population’ or the ‘X population’ that had mated with Homo sapiens more than 200,000 years ago.

In the anthropological paper now published in Science, the researchers suggest that the Nesher Ramla Homo type might represent this population, heretofore missing from the record of human fossils. Moreover, the researchers propose that the humans from Nesher Ramla are not the only ones of their kind discovered in the region, and that some human fossils found previously in Israel, which have baffled anthropologists for years — like the fossils from the Tabun cave (160,000 years ago), Zuttiyeh cave (250,000), and Qesem cave (400,000) — belong to the same new human group now called the Nesher Ramla Homo type.

“People think in paradigms,” says Dr. Rachel Sarig. “That’s why efforts have been made to ascribe these fossils to known human groups like Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, or the Neanderthals. But now we say: No. This is a group in itself, with distinct features and characteristics. At a later stage small groups of the Nesher Ramla Homo type migrated to Europe — where they evolved into the ‘classic’ Neanderthals that we are familiar with, and also to Asia, where they became archaic populations with Neanderthal-like features. As a crossroads between Africa, Europe, and Asia, the Land of Israel served as a melting pot where different human populations mixed with one another, to later spread throughout the Old World. The discovery from the Nesher Ramla site writes a new and fascinating chapter in the story of humankind.”

Prof. Gerhard Weber, an associate from Vienna University, argues that the story of Neanderthal evolution will be told differently after this discovery: “Europe was not the exclusive refugium of Neanderthals from where they occasionally diffused into West Asia. We think that there was much more lateral exchange in Eurasia, and that the Levant is geographically a crucial starting point, or at a least bridgehead, for this process.”

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