The generally accepted view is that modern humans, Homo sapiens, emerged from the continent of Africa around 200,000 years ago, although in the view of some experts it could have been as recently as 50,000 years ago.
Israeli archaeologists from the Tel Aviv University have uncovered evidence that appears to dispute this view. This evidence indicates that Homo sapiens roamed the land now called Israel as early as 400,000 years ago, which is the earliest evidence of the existence of modern humans anywhere in the world.
The evidence is in the form of eight teeth that were discovered in the Qesem Cave, an archaeological site near Rosh Ha'ayin that was first excavated in 2000. A morphological analysis was carried out on the teeth by a distinguished international team led by Professor Avi Gopher and Dr Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, who ran the excavations, together with Professor Israel Hershkowitz of the University's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Sackler School of Medicine.
The analysis included CT scans and X-rays and indications were that these teeth were very similar in shape and size to those of modern humans. Not only this, but researchers found that the teeth found in the Qesem Cave were very similar to other evidence of modern humans in Israel that had been discovered in Skhul Cave in the Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. This evidence dates back to around 100,000 years.
The findings from the Qesem Cave date to a period between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. Excited archaeologists believe that this indicates a significant evolution in the behaviour of ancient humans. This period was very significant in the history of humankind from cultural as well as biological perspectives. The teeth that are being studied indicate that these changes are apparently related to evolutionary changes that were taking place at the time.
Professor Gopher and Dr Barkai noted that evidence in the Qesem Cave reinforced the hypothesis that this was in fact innovative and pioneering behaviour that may correspond with the appearance of modern humans. The evidence included indications of the mining of raw materials from sub-surface sources; the production of flint tools; a systematic production of sophisticated flint blades; the regular use of fire; and evidence of hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat.
These discoveries that have been made in the Qesem Cave have led researchers to believe that the established theory that modern humans originated on the continent of Africa may well be overturned. Archaeological evidence and human skeletons that have been found in recent years in both China and Spain have further undermined this position.
In view of their extreme antiquity the findings in the Qesem Cave are an unprecedented discovery. Excavations are continuing and researchers are optimistic that additional finds will enable them to confirm the findings that have already been published.
The hope is that fresh discoveries will enhance our understanding of humankind, especially with respect to the emergence of modern man.
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