This Skull Might Reveal Where Humans First Had Sex With Neanderthals

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Is this where your tiny bit of Neanderthal DNA comes from?

1. This skull found in a cave in northern Israel tells us, for the first time, that modern humans lived in that area 55,000 years ago.

Hershkovitz et al. / Via Nature

Which means that both modern humans and Neanderthals both inhabited the area during the late Pleistocene, close in time to when scientists believe the two groups interbred.

The partial skull (it’s missing its face and jaw) was discovered in the Manot cave in western Galilee and probably belonged to a woman. It’s similar to modern African and European skulls in shape. But, crucially, it differs from other anatomically modern humans from the surrounding areas.

Scientists have found no direct evidence that this is the site where humans and Neanderthals first interbred, but what they do have fits that conclusion.

2. Lead researcher Israel Hershkovitz told the Guardian:

Manot is the best candidate for the interbreeding of modern humans with Neanderthals and there is really no other candidate. The people at Manot cave are the only population we know of that shared the same geographical region for a very long period of time.

3. The expansion of modern humans from Africa between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago is a hugely important event in human evolution.

Israel Hershkovitz, Ofer Marder & Omry Barzilai / Via Nature

But human fossils from this time are scarce, so we don’t know much about the ancestors of non-African modern humans.

4. Professor Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum, who was not an author on the paper, said:

Manot might represent some of the elusive first migrants in the hypothesised out-of-Africa event about 60,000 years ago, a population whose descendants ultimately spread right across Asia, and also into Europe. Its discovery raises hopes of more complete specimens from this critical region and time period.

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