A rat’s tale changes our 
understanding of human evolution

June 24, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Roughly 200,000-year-old fossils from a Carmel Cave in northern Israel indicate that human migration from Africa actually occurred during the Ice Age.

Photo: Misliya Mina Weinstein-Evron, University of Haifa

Contrary to popular theory that the freezing conditions and dryness of the ice age periods deterred human migration between continents, a new and surprising study reveals that movement out of Africa into the Middle East actually occurred under such challenging climatic conditions.*

The findings were published by Dr Lior Weissbrod of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa.

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

The research 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, that is among the earliest human remains outside Africa. The research was published this week in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The human jawbone from Misliya. Photo Israel Hershkowitz, Tel Aviv University

Dr Weissbrod who published the new findings together with Professor Weinstein-Evron said: “We investigated tiny fossils, most of them smaller than a single mm, discovered within the same layer where the jawbone of the earliest modern humans (Homo sapiens) outside Africa was found two years ago, a finding published by Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of the Tel Aviv University and Prof. Weinstein-Evron of Haifa University in the prestigious journal Science. The fossils now being investigated were identified as belonging to 13 different species of rodents and small insect eaters, some of which now live in high and cold regions, in the Zagros Mountains of northwestern Iran and in the Caucasus Mountains.”

Dr Weissbrod added:  “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. This signifies that, here in Israel, cold conditions prevailed that allowed such animals to survive. Finding the human jawbone in the same layer where the rodent lived, suggests that these early humans survived under these conditions! The tiny remains of the conditions ancient humans could have survived in different prehistoric times, and at what rate human adaptability evolved in order to adjust to diverse climatic conditions.”

The research of Dr. Weissbrod of the Israel Antiquities Authority and of Prof. Weinstein-Evron of the University of Haifa, now reveals that the migration from Africa occurred during a period of a global ice age and supports the belief that the adaptations that made humanity the dominant species on Earth appeared early on in our evolution.

The researcher who conducted the excavation at Misliya Cave Prof. Weinstein-Evron stated: “Prehistoric discoveries in Israel, and in other regions of North Africa and southeastern Europe, are changing existing perceptions on human evolution. These discoveries shed light on the origins of modern humans and the development of their physiological and behavioral capabilities. These capabilities enabled us to reach each of the continents in a relatively short time, in evolutionary terms, accelerated the extinction of earlier human species, and actually led our ancestors to dominate the world. If the climate wasn’t the factor that initially delayed our ancient ancestors, researchers will have to examine other explanations, including those related to population demographics, interactions with other human species, or the late emergence of technological innovations.”


One Response to “A rat’s tale changes our 
understanding of human evolution”
  1. Anne Ramirez says:

    RNA can be found in fossils…is there any research implications for novel virus research?

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