From the depths of the Manot Cave in the Western Galilee, new light is being shed on the development of prehistoric humans through an archaeological find of six human teeth discovered there.This study is “ground-breaking” said Prof. Israel Hershkowitz, head of the Tel Aviv University’s Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Bio-History Research. A team from Tel Aviv University, the Antiquities Authority, Ben-Gurion University and others are advancing what is known about a significant era in this region’s history.Aurignacian culture, having arisen in Europe during the early Upper Paleolithic period some 43,000 years ago, is known for its cultural sophistication. Named after the Cave of Aurignac – the type of site in southwestern France from where these earliest known West Eurasian modern humans are identified – they were capable of producing bone tools, artifacts, jewelry, musical instruments and cave paintings.Perhaps you could say they were the vanguard of their day: into the arts, in a world of less-developed beings, like their neighbors, the Neanderthals.
For many years, researchers thought that modern man’s entry into Europe resulted in the quick decline of Neanderthals, theorizing that dissimilarities between modern humans and their less-sophisticated neighbors led to physical conflict and competition over food sources.But newer studies lean toward the assimilation of Neanderthals into modern human migrations to account for their vanishing from Europe. This study lends support to that revised theory.By examining the six teeth with state-of-the-art dental technology, Dr. Racheli Sarig, of TAU’s School of Dental Medicine and the Dan David Center, in collaboration with Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Antiquities Authority and colleagues in Austria and the US, have shown that Aurignacians arrived from Europe to what is now Israel some 40,000 years ago. They were comprised both of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, an unexpected finding diverging from earlier theories.“Unlike bones, teeth are preserved well as they are made of enamel, which is the substance in the human body most resistant to the effects of time,” Sarig explains.Using micro-CT scans and 3D analyses on four of the teeth, the researchers were surprised to discover that two teeth were typical for Homo sapiens, a third shows features characteristic of Neanderthals, and the last shows a combination of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens features. A study based on the new findings was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Until now, this mix of Neanderthals and human features has only been found in European populations from the early Upper Paleolithic period, suggesting their common origin. Hershkowitz adds, “To date, we have not found any human remains from this period in Israel, so the group remains a mystery. “This study, “for the first time, brings out the story of the population responsible for some of the world’s most important cultural contributions,” he said.Very briefly, “a new culture existed in our region for a short time – approximately 2,000-3,000 years – and then disappeared, for no apparent reason,” adds Sarig. “Now, we know something about their makeup.”