Teeth from Qesem cave 311.
(photo credit: Prof. Israel Hershkowitz/TAU)
Eight human teeth dating back as far as 400,000 years ago and found at the
prehistoric Qesem Cave near Rosh Ha’ayin – discovered recently by Tel Aviv
University researchers – are “the world’s earliest evidence” of modern man (Homo
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Until now, remains of humans from only 200,000 years ago have
been found in Africa, and the accepted approach has been that modern man
originated on that continent.
Long before the land was called Israel and
the residents Jews, Homo sapiens lived here twice as long ago as was previously
believed, the researchers wrote in the latest (December) edition of the American
Journal of Physical Anthropology
The cave was uncovered in 2000 by Prof.
Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of TAU’s Institute of Archeology. Later,
Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at
TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine and an international team of scientists
performed a morphological analysis on the teeth found in the cave.
examination included CT scans and X-rays indicating the size and shape of the
teeth are very similar to those of modern man. The teeth found in the cave are
also very similar to evidence of modern man dated to around 100,000 years ago
that had previously been discovered in the Skhul Cave on Mount Carmel and the
Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth.
The Qesem Cave is dated
between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, and archeologists working there believe
that the findings indicate significant changes in the behavior of ancient man.
This period of time was crucial in the history of mankind from cultural and
biological perspectives, and the fact that teeth of modern man were discovered
indicates that these changes are apparently related to evolutionary changes
taking place at that time, they maintained.
Gopher and Barkai noted that
the findings that characterize the culture of those who dwelled in the Qesem
Cave – the systematic production of flint blades, the habitual use of fire,
evidence of hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat, mining raw materials to
produce flint tools from subsurface sources and much more – reinforce the
hypothesis that this was, in fact, innovative and pioneering behavior that
corresponds with the appearance of modern man.
The specimens, date back
to the Middle Pleistocene era, include permanent and deciduous teeth. They were
thus placed chronologically earlier than the bulk of fossil hominin specimens
previously known from southwest Asia. Although none of the Qesem teeth resemble
those of pre-Homo sapiens Neanderthals, a few traits may suggest some affinities
with members of the Neanderthal evolutionary lineage, but the balance of the
evidence suggests a closer similarity with the Skhul-Qafzeh dental material,
said Gopher and Barkai.
According to the researchers, the discoveries
made in the Qesem Cave may change the perception that has been widely accepted
to date in which modern man originated on the continent of Africa. In recent
years, archeological evidence and human skeletons have been discovered in Spain
and China that are liable to undermine this perception, but the findings now
uncovered at Qesem are significant and invaluable, and their early age is
undoubtedly an extraordinary archeological discovery, said Gopher and
As excavations at the cave continue, the researchers hope to
uncover additional discoveries that will enable them to confirm the findings
published up to now and to enhance their understanding of the evolution of
mankind and especially the appearance of modern man.