By: April Carson
A 1.5 million-year-old vertebra from an extinct human species dug up in Israel suggests that ancient humans may have migrated to Europe and Asia in many waves, according to a new research.
The fossil, discovered in the excavation site of Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv , Israel, provides new evidence for a theory that modern humans moved out of Africa multiple times. It's an idea that goes against the more widely held 'Out of Africa' theory, which posits that Homo sapiens emerged from East Africa 200,000 years
Other human species once inhabited Earth, however modern humans, Homo sapiens, are the only surviving descendants of the human family tree. Long before modern humans left Africa as early as 270,000 years ago, now-extinct human species had already journeyed from Africa to Eurasia some 1.8 million years ago, during the early phases of the Pleistocene (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago), when Earth was still experiencing a glacial period.
Scientists had argued for years over whether early humans departed from Africa in a single mass or in many waves. Researchers have now determined that the latter scenario is more probable, based on a newly studied vertebra from an unknown human species that dates back 1.5 million years. The vertebra, which is believed to be around 1.5 million years old, was found by Alon Barash and his colleagues at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, according to Live Science.
The study, which was published in the journal "Nature Communications," determined that the vertebra had more similarities with those of humans from Africa than those from other parts of the world. In addition, some characteristics were distinctly African, which would have been tough to explain if a single wave had left Africa.
The bone was unearthed in the Jordanian Valley's 'Ubeidiya, which is the oldest known archaeological site outside of Africa. The area contains not just ancient stone artefacts similar to those discovered at sites in East Africa, but also a significant number of animal bones belonging to extinct species such as saber-toothed cats and mammoths.
After examining bones discovered in 'Ubeidiya in 1966, researchers announced in 2018 that they had found a vertebra from the lower back of a hominin, the category that includes humans, our ancestors, and our closest evolutionary relatives. They estimated the fossil is between 1.5 and 1.75 million years old.
The discovery of the 1.5 million-year-old (Early Pleistocene) hominin fossil was significant, because it suggested that there might be even older evidence of human occupation in the Levant region than previously thought - an extremely rare find given how dry the area is and thus how unlikely it would have been to preserve ancestral bones.
The vertebra was compared to those from a variety of animals, such as bears, hyenas, hippos, rhinos, horses, gorillas, and chimpanzees, that once lived in the 'Ubeidiya region. (There is not enough data from this one bone to determine whether it belonged to any known species of extinct human.)
Based on the bone's size, shape, and other characteristics, the researchers estimated it was from a 6- to 12-year-old kid. However, at death, the child would have been about 5 feet 1 inch (155 cm) tall and weighed about 100 to 110 pounds (45 to 50 kg). As big as an 11- to 15-year-old modern human in other words.
"The study demonstrates how much information about a long-ago person we may obtain from a little part of the body," said Hawks.
1.8 million-year-old human fossils previously unearthed in Dmanisi, Georgia, indicated that those extinct humans were tiny-bodied hominins about 4 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 5 inches (145 to 166 cm) tall and 88 to 110 pounds (40 to 50 kg) weight as adults. In contrast, scientists analyzing the Ubeidiya vertebra concluded that the individual may have grown even taller in adulthood: 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm) and 220 pounds (100 kg).
"Dmanisi hominins are tiny in size — they're at the smallest end of human variation today," Hawks added. "The greater size of this new vertebral body, coupled with the previously discovered long limbs and robust torso, suggests a huge body mass index (BMI), comparable to some of those reported in Africa around the same time."
The researchers' conclusion that the 1.8 million-year-old fossils found in Dmanisi and the 1.5 million-year-old fossil found in 'Ubeidiya belonged to two separate species of humans is based on their study of ancient human remains from sites across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. As a result, according to the scientists, ancient people most likely left Africa in more than one exodus.
Barash added, "We can discuss two early Pleistocene out-of-Africa migration waves in a secure manner."
The Dmanisi and 'Ubeidiya fossils show different features. For example, while the Dmanisi hominins were hunter-gatherers that used Oldowan stone tools, the 'Ubeidiya hominins were more likely to be plant-based foragers who utilized flakes from local flint sources. Additionally, there are several differences between the two groups of people. The kinds of stone tools discovered in Dmanisi, known as Oldowan, are fairly simple; they're typically made from one or a few flakes chipped off of another rock. In contrast, those unearthed at 'Ubeidiya were more advanced; hand axes were formed from volcanic lava.
Dmanisi and 'Ubeidiya also had climatic differences. Dmanisi was drier, with a savanna environment, whereas 'Ubeidiya was warmer and more humid, with woodland forests (as compared to Dmanisi). As a result, the researchers could conceive of an scenario based on these locations in which various human species inhabited different habitats and created distinct tools.
However, the 'Ubeidiya fossil's size is remarkable. "Assuming that it is a hominin, what is mind-boggling is that the 'Ubeidiya fossil is developmentally comparable to a 5-year-old yet considerably larger than our team's entire sample of fossil Homo and juvenile humans up to age 17," Marc Meyer, a paleoanthropologist at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, California who was not involved in the study, told Live Science in an email. It's the biggest of any human species known to humans. It may weigh up to four times more than an adult male gorilla, which is approximately 440 pounds (200 kg). To have a 5-year-old kid that size is just insane." (According to previous study, modern humans and Neanderthals evolved hundreds of thousands of years after the Dmanisi and 'Ubeidiya individuals.)
Even if the vertebra is from an ancient human, it may be from a person suffering from some sort of malady. This might render it "extremely dangerous to use as the representative for a species," according on Meyer.
"It's definitely not the kind of thing that could be used for attribution," he said.
"Humans have changed in body size many times throughout history, and both big-bodied and tiny-bodied contemporary human populations have evolved over thousands of years," Hawks said. "So I don't believe finding a single huge individual implies a different dispersal than the Dmanisi material."
Although it might appear that humans or other hominins were in Eurasia much earlier than Dmanisi, Hawks indicated that he thinks it's "very likely" that people or other hominins inhabited the region earlier. "In Jordan, China, and Pakistan, there are a few sites with apparent older stone tool evidence," he continued.
"We need to continue excavation in 'Ubeidiya — who knows what bones are still hidden there?" Barash added. "Also, the site 'Gesher Benot Ya'aqov' in Israel is very important for this time period. There are also some other sites like Dmanisi that haven't been published much yet, so discoveries there may help us better understand what was going on at that time."
The researchers published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports on February 2.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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