Prehistoric humans migrated to Israel during Ice Age

Before the jawbone from the Carmel was found, modern humans were thought to have left Africa around 100,000 years ago.

Carmel fossils revolutionize understanding of human journey from Africa to Israel during Ice Age (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Prehistoric modern humans first left Africa to migrate north during the Ice Age and were able to adapt to the cold climate persisting in Israel and the Middle East back then, new research conducted by scholars at the Israel Antiquities Authority and at the University of Haifa has shown.
The study, whose findings were published in the Journal of Human Evolution on Sunday, analyzed fossils unearthed in the Misliya Cave in Mount Carmel dating back about 200,000 years.
Remains of specific species of rodents typical of northern and colder regions were identified close to a human jawbone – the earliest known evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens outside of Africa. The jawbone was found in the cave about two years ago in a groundbreaking discovery.
The results of the analysis offer new insights into human evolution and the life of our ancestors in the region, Dr. Lior Weisbrod of the IAA explained to The Jerusalem Post.
“Among the species discovered, we found remains of what is generally known as a mole vole,” he said. “We can state that they are used to cold conditions because today the populations which live the closest to us today are in the Zagros Mountains in northwestern Iran, in the Caucasus and further north. For this reason, we can assume that back then they were able to expand all the way here because the climate was colder.”
Rearchers believe that the rodent disappeared from the region about 150,000 years ago.
Before the jawbone from the Carmel was found, modern humans were thought to have left Africa around 100,000 years ago. The harsh climate of the Ice Age was believed to have discouraged them to move further north. The new research suggests that this was not the case, strengthening the belief that the ability to adapt has characterized humanity since its dawn.
Weisbrod pointed out that while it is hard to be precise about the climate conditions of specific areas and specific times, according to estimates during the Ice Age global temperatures were five or six degrees lower than current ones and as a consequence, the sea level also dropped by tens of meters.
“For this reason, the landscape of Israel looked very different from what we are used to now. For example there was a big lake stretching from the Dead Sea of today to the north, almost reaching the Kinneret,” he highlighted.
Questions like how and when human migration from Africa started happening, what its dynamic was, and especially how early ancient humans developed the ability to adapt, allowing them to expand from their original homeland to different habitats have long been debated by experts, the archaeologist pointed out.
“Now we see that they were able to do it even in a period when the conditions were even more challenging because of the cold,” he said.
“Prehistoric discoveries in Israel, and in other regions of North Africa and southeastern Europe, are changing existing perceptions on human evolution,” Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa explained in a release. “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.”
Weisbrod told the Post that in the next few years, more revolutionary discoveries are to be expected, which will have a deep impact on the study of human evolution.
“What I find amazing is that after eighty and more years of research here in Israel, new caves are still being discovered and scholars are finding new elements which are going to change the picture of what we know, to add information and to show that some ideas we had before are not true,” Weisbrod concluded. “This is the beauty of science.”