When Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron and Dr. Israel Hershkovitz began digging around a cave in the Mt. Carmel region 16 years ago, their intention was nothing less than to find the origins of the modern homo sapiens. In a paper published this week in Science, the pair makes the case that they may have come close to doing just that.
During that dig in 2002, a freshman on his first archaeological dig stumbled upon a human jawbone; in the years since, Weinstein-Evron and Herhskovitz have methodically used every manner of dating technology to ascertain the the age of the fragment, containing seven intact teeth and a cracked incisor. It has been to Tel Aviv, Austria, France, and Australia in order to be measured, turned over, and measured again. And the results, after quite a long wait, are in: The jawbone appears to be 177,000-194,000 years old.
This dating is significant insofar as human remains of this age have never been found outside of Africa; the previous record holders were fossils dated to about 90,000-120,000 years old, also found in Israel. And “Miss Lia,” as Weinstein-Evron jokingly refers to the fossil (a play on the name of the cave, Misliya, in which it was found), is going to cause quite a stir, apparently. Hershkovitz doesn’t put it lightly: “The entire narrative of the evolution of Homo sapiens must be pushed back by at least 100,000-200,000 years,” he told the Times of Israel.
Other scientists urged caution on making pronouncements that were too broad. Though the jawbone did belong to a modern human, that phrase only refers to ancestors who were technically closer to us than they were to Neanderthals.
The full academic article was published in Science, if that’s your sort of thing.