Small rodent fossils found in Israel challenge assumptions about when man first arrived there

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Contrary to popular belief that the cold and dry climate of the Ice Age was a barrier to the intercontinental migration of humans, a new and surprising Israeli research project reveals that migration out of Africa actually occurred under such climatic conditions some 200,000 years ago.

Small rodent fossils found in Israel challenge assumptions about when man first arrived there
IAA archaeologist Dr. Lior Weisbrod with tiny fossils of rodents from the excavation
[Credit: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority]

The research conducted by Dr. Lior Weissbrod of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, was published this week in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Small rodent fossils found in Israel challenge assumptions about when man first arrived there
The human jawbone from Misliya Cave [Credit: Israel Hershkowitz,
Tel Aviv University]




In their research, they examined animal fossils from Misliya Cave in Mount Carmel and identified a vole species that characterized northern and cold regions. The rodents were found close to a human jawbone, nearly 200,000 years old, which is among the earliest human remains outside Africa.

Small rodent fossils found in Israel challenge assumptions about when man first arrived there
Exterior of Misliya cave, where a jawbone was discovered dating to 177,000-194,000 years ago
[Credit: Mina Weinstein-Evron, Haifa University]

“It is amazing to learn about modern human evolution from the remains of one small rodent. Among the species discovered during the excavation, we were also very surprised to discover animals capable of living only in cold climates – especially one species called Ellobius lutescens, which lived here during the Ice Age and disappeared from our region more than 150,000 years ago. Finding the human jawbone in the same layer where the rodent lived suggests that these early humans survived under these conditions! ” Says Dr. Weisbrod from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Small rodent fossils found in Israel challenge assumptions about when man first arrived there
Excavated area of Misliya cave, where the jawbone was discovered dating to 177,000-194,000 years ago
[Credit: Mina Weinstein-Evron, Haifa University]

These findings are significant to the study of human evolution. Now, it is possible to determine under which conditions ancient humans could have survived during different prehistoric times, and at what rate human adaptability evolved in order to adjust to diverse climatic conditions.

Source: Israel Antiquities Authority [June 22, 2020]