How Carmel Cave Rodent Changed Scientists’ Understanding of Human Evolution
“The tiny remains of the animals we examined are of paramount importance to the study of human evolution. With the help of fossils, one can determine under what 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.”
Photo Credit: Mina Weinstein-Evron, University of Haifa
Contrary to the 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 did take place 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 Yesterday (Sunday) in the Journal of Human Evolution.
According to Dr. Lior Weisbrod of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who published the new findings together with Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, “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. Mina 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.”
According to Dr. Weisbrod, “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 animals we examined are of paramount importance to the study of human evolution. With the help of fossils, one can determine under what 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. Weisbrod 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.
According to Prof. Weinstein-Evron, the researcher who conducted the excavation at Misliya Cave, “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.”