Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have identified a new type of early human at the Nesher Ramla site, dating from 140,000 to 120,000 years ago. According to the researchers, the morphology of humans Nesher Ramla shares characteristics with both Neanderthals (especially teeth and jaws) and archaic Homo (specifically the skull).

At the same time, this type of Homo is very different from modern humans: it shows a completely different skull structure, no chin, and very large teeth. Following the study’s findings, the researchers believe that the Nesher Ramla Homo type is the ‘source’ population from which most Middle Pleistocene humans developed.

In addition, they suggest that this group is the so-called ‘disappeared’ population that mated with Homo sapiens that arrived in the region about 200,000 years ago, about whom we know from a recent study on fossils found in the Misliya cave.

Two teams of researchers were involved in the dramatic discovery, published in the journal Science: an anthropology team from Tel Aviv University led by Professor Israel Hershkovitz, Dr. Hila May, and Dr. Rachel Sarig from the Sackler School of Medicine.

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and Dan David. The Center for Research on Human Evolution and Biohistory and the Institute of Anthropology of the Shmunis Family, located in the Steinhardt Museum of Tel Aviv University; and an archaeological team headed by Dr. Yossi Zaidner from the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Chronology: 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 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 in the old world. Even though they lived so long ago, in the late Middle Pleistocene (474,000-130,000 years ago), the people of Nesher Ramla can tell us a fascinating story, revealing much about the evolution and way of life of their descendants. “

The important human fossil was found by Dr. Zaidner of the Hebrew University during rescue excavations at the prehistoric site of Nesher Ramla, in the mining area of ​​the Nesher cement plant (owned by Len Blavatnik) near the city of Ramla. Digging about 8 meters, the excavators found large amounts of animal bones, including horses, fallow deer and aurochs, as well as stone tools and human bones.

An international team led by 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 along with Homo sapiens, archaic Homo roamed the area so late in human history. Archaeological finds associated with human fossils show that” Nesher Ramla Homo “possessed advanced stone. Tool-making technologies and probably interacted with local Homo sapiens.” The culture, way of life and behavior of Nesher Ramla Homo are discussed in a companion article also published in the journal Science today.

Professor Hershkovitz adds that the discovery of the Nesher Ramla Homo type challenges the prevailing hypothesis that Neanderthals originated in Europe. “Before these new findings,” he says, “most researchers believed that Neanderthals were a ‘European story’, in which small groups of Neanderthals were forced to migrate south to escape expanding glaciers, and some made it to the Land of Israel approximately.

70,000 years ago. Nesher Ramla fossils make us question this theory, suggesting that the ancestors of European Neanderthals lived in the Levant 400,000 years ago, repeatedly migrating westward. to Europe and east to Asia. In fact, our findings imply that the famous Western European Neanderthals are just the remnants of a much larger population that lived here in the Levant, and not the other way around. “

According to Dr. Hila May, despite the absence of DNA in these fossils, Nesher Ramla’s findings offer a solution to a great mystery in Homo evolution: How did Homo sapiens genes penetrate the Neanderthal population that presumably lived in Europe for a long time? before the arrival of Homo sapiens? Geneticists who studied the DNA of European Neanderthals had previously suggested the existence of a population similar to Neanderthals which they called the ‘missing population’ or ‘population X’ 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 could represent this population, hitherto disappeared from the human fossil record. Furthermore, the researchers propose that Nesher Ramla’s humans are not the only ones of their kind discovered in the region and that some human fossils previously found in Israel, which have puzzled anthropologists for years, such as the Tabun cave fossils (160,000 years ago), the Zuttiyeh cave (250,000) and the Qesem cave (400,000) belong to the same new human group that is now called the Nesher Ramla Homo type.

“People think in paradigms,” says Dr. Rachel Sarig. “That is why efforts have been made to attribute these fossils to human groups known as Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis or Neanderthals. But now we say: No. This is a group in itself, with different characteristics and characteristics. a later stage, small groups of the Nesher Ramla Homo type migrated to Europe, where they evolved into the “classical” Neanderthals with which we are familiar, and also to Asia, where they became archaic populations with characteristics similar to those of Neanderthals.

Between Africa, Europe, and Asia, the Land of Israel served as a melting pot where different human populations intermingled with each other, then spread throughout the Old World. The discovery of the Nesher Ramla site writes a fascinating new chapter in history. of humanity “.

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

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