greg) Quite a Discovery, will have to wait to see if it holds up to the Scientific scrutiny...
Can a tooth change our history of man?
From: The Advertiser
December 30, 2010 12:01AM
Professor Avi Gopher from Tel Aviv University holds an ancient tooth that was found at an archeological site in central Israel. Picture: Oded Balilty
THE discovery of 400,000-year-old human remains could rewrite the history of human evolution.
Until now, researchers believed that Homo sapiens, the direct descendants of modern man, evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago and gradually migrated north, through the Middle East, to Europe and Asia.
Recently, discoveries of early human remains in China and Spain have cast doubt on the "Out of Africa" theory, but no one was certain.
But the new discovery of pre-historic human remains by Israeli explorers in a cave near Ben-Gurion airport could force scientists to rethink earlier theories.
Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University say eight human-like teeth found in the Qesem cave near Rosh Ha'Ayin - 16km from Israel's international airport - are 400,000 years old, from the Middle Pleistocene age, making them the earliest remains of Homo sapiens yet discovered anywhere in the world.
The size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man.
Until now, the earliest examples found were in Africa, dating back only 200,000 years.
Other scientists have argued human beings originated in Africa before moving to other regions 150,000 to 200,000 years ago.
Homo sapiens discovered in Middle Awash, Ethiopia, from 160,000 years ago were believed to be the oldest "modern" humans.
Other remains previously found in Israeli caves are thought to have been more recent and 80,000 to 100,000 years old.
The findings of Professor Avi Gopher and Dr Ran Barkai of the Institute of Archeology at Tel Aviv University, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, suggest that modern man did not originate in Africa as previously believed, but in the Middle East.
At the same time, a separate United States study has found that Neanderthals, prehistoric cousins of humans, ate grains and vegetables as well as meat, cooking them over fire in the same way Homo sapiens did.
The Israeli Qesem cave was discovered in 2000 and has been the focus of intense study ever since.
Along with the teeth - those parts of the human skeleton that survive the longest - the researchers found evidence of a sophisticated early human society that used sharpened flakes of stone to cut meat and other prehistoric tools.
The Israeli scientists say the remains found in the cave suggested the systematic production of flint blades, the habitual use of fire, evidence of hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat, and mining raw materials to produce flint tools from rocks below ground.
"A diversified assemblage of flint blades was manufactured and used," the Tel Aviv scientists wrote, describing the tools they found in the cave.
"Thick-edged blades, shaped through retouch, were used for scraping semi-hard materials such as wood or hide, whereas blades with straight, sharp working edges were used to cut soft tissues."
The specimens, which date back to the Middle Pleistocene era, include permanent and deciduous teeth.
They were thus placed chronologically earlier than the bulk of fossil hominid specimens previously known to be from southwest Asia.
Although none of the Qesem teeth resemble those of pre-Homo sapien 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 Skhul-Qafzeh dental material, also found in Israel.
In recent years, archeological evidence and human skeletons have been discovered in Spain and China that are liable to undermine the latest perception of the origins of modern man, but the findings now uncovered at Qesem are significant and invaluable, and their early age has been dubbed an extraordinary archeological discovery.
The explorers are continuing to investigate the Qesem cave and its contents, expecting to make more discoveries that would shed further light on human evolution in prehistoric times.
Separate research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, challenges a prevailing theory that Neanderthals' over-reliance on meat contributed to their extinction around 30,000 years ago.
Researchers found grains from numerous plants, including a type of wild grass, as well as traces of roots and tubers, trapped in plaque build-up on fossilised Neanderthal teeth unearthed in northern Europe and Iraq.
Many of the particles "had undergone physical changes that matched experimentally-cooked starch grains, suggesting that Neanderthals controlled fire much like early modern humans," PNAS states.
Stone artefacts have not provided evidence that Neanderthals used tools to grind plants, suggesting they did not practise agriculture, but the new research indicates they cooked and prepared plants for eating, it says.
The squat, low-browed Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for about 170,000 years but all evidence of them disappears some 28,000 years ago, their last known refuge being Gibraltar.
Why they died out is a matter of debate, because they co-existed alongside modern man.