TEL AVIV – Scientists say they discovered a new type of primitive human after studying pieces of fossilized bone unearthed at a site used by a cement plant in central Israel.
The fragments of a skull and lower jaw with teeth were around 130,000 years old and could force parts of the human family tree to be rethought, researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Nesher Ramla Homo – named after the place southeast of Tel Aviv where he was found – may have lived alongside our species, Homo sapiens, for over 100,000 years, and may even have been cross, depending on the results.
Early humans, who had very large teeth and no chins, could also be ancestors of Neanderthals, the study added, challenging current thinking that our evolutionary cousins originated in Europe.
“The discovery of a new type of Homo is of great scientific importance,” said Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, one of the leaders of the team that analyzed the remains.
“It allows us to give new meaning to previously found human fossils, add another piece to the puzzle of human evolution, and understand the migrations of humans into the old world.”
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Dr Yossi Zaidner of the Hebrew University found the fossils while exploring the mining area of the Nesher cement plant near the town of Ramla, the universities said in their statement.
Excavators found the bones about 25 feet deep among stone tools and bones from horses and deer.
The study said the Nesher Ramla resembled pre-Neanderthal groups in Europe.
“This is what makes us suggest that this Nesher Ramla group is actually a large group that started very early in time and is the origin of European Neanderthals,” said Hila May, anthropologist. physics at the Dan David Center and the Shmunis Institute of Tel Aviv University.
Experts have never been able to fully explain how Homo sapiens genes were present in the earlier Neanderthal population in Europe, May said, and the Nesher Ramla may be the mysterious group responsible.
The jawbone did not have a chin and the skull was flat, she said. The 3D shape analysis then ruled out any relationship with any other known group.
What they matched up, May said, were a small number of enigmatic human fossils found elsewhere in Israel, dating even earlier, that anthropologists had never been able to locate.
“As the crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia, the Land of Israel served as a melting pot where different human populations mixed together, and then spilled over into the Old World,” said Dr Rachel. Sarig, from Tel Aviv University.
Sheela Athreya, a paleoanthropologist from Texas A&M University who was not involved in the study, said the new research “gives us a lot to think about in terms of the history of population groups in this region, and how they were able to interact with people from other regions, in Europe and North Africa.
The Nesher Ramla fossils “look like something on a line heading to Neanderthals,” said Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College in New York who was not involved in the study. He called the finds “fossils of what appears to be an intermediate variety – this group may be predecessors of Neanderthals in this area.”