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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Modern humans may be older than we thought

Conventional wisdom holds that modern humans evolved in Africa and spread throughout the world starting about 200,000 years ago. An excavation to Qesem Cave, Israel has uncovered what appear to be modern human teeth, dated to between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago. If this fossil evidence is confirmed, then either modern humans left Africa much earlier than previously thought, or they evolved in the Middle East, rather than in Africa.

The international team of paleontologists found the eight teeth and subjected them to CT scans, X-rays, and other tests to compare them with modern human teeth. Along with the teeth, the researchers found evidence of flint tool manufacture and use, and the use of fire, all hallmarks of human behavior. Taken together, the evidence does suggest that modern humans were using Qesem Cave long before they should have left Africa.

I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical about these conclusions. There’s just so much evidence to corroborate the current time-line of human evolution. The authors of the paper admit that there is some possibility that the teeth are in fact Neanderthal, and not modern human (though they think the teeth are far more similar to those of modern humans), which would fit the conventional time-line very nicely. Still, it’s a very exciting discovery and one I look forward to hearing more about.

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