Scientists Discover Bones of An ‘Unknown’ Type of Human
Researchers have discovered fossils of a human species previously unknown to science. These remains are not of modern-day humans, and the researchers have named the Homo-type they belong to as the “Nesher Ramla Homo-type” — christened after the place in Israel where the fossils were discovered.
Reportedly, remnants of the species — skull fragments and a lower jaw with teeth that are about 120,000 to 140,000 years old — were discovered as early as 2010. However, the process of cleaning the fossils, reconstructing them, and analyzing them took well over a decade. Finally, two papers detailing the discovery of the species were published in the Science journal today.
“The discovery of a new type of Homo is of great scientific importance,” said Israel Hershkovitz from the department of anatomy and anthropology at Tel Aviv University, who led one of the studies.
“Even though they lived so long ago… [they] can tell us a fascinating tale, revealing a great deal about their descendants’ evolution and way of life,” Hershkovitz said, adding that the discovery will enable us to “make new sense of previously found human fossils, add another piece to the puzzle of human evolution, and understand the migrations of humans in the old world.”
Researchers believe the Nesher Ramla people were a large population in the region, and lived there at least about 400,000 to 100,000 years ago. In fact, they may even have interbred with Homo sapiens — the species to which modern-day humans belong — during the time they were around.
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Interestingly, the Nesher Ramla people were found buried 25 feet into the ground — among bones of horses and deer, and also stone tools. “It was a surprise that archaic humans were using tools normally associated with Homo sapiens. This suggests that there were interactions between the two groups,” said Yossi Zaidner from the Hebrew University at Jerusalem, who led the other study.
The jaw bone that was discovered had very large teeth and no chin, and the skull, too, was found to be flat. Researchers ran three-dimensional analyses on the fossils to rule out possibilities of them belonging to known Homo species.
They believe it is possible the Nesher Ramla people were ancestors to the Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthals, who are known to be the modern human’s “closest extinct human relative.” If that turns out to be true, the discovery might alter our geographical understanding of the origin of Neanderthals.
“The oldest fossils that show Neanderthal features are found in Western Europe, so researchers generally believe the Neanderthals originated there. However, migrations of different species from the Middle East into Europe may have provided genetic contributions to the Neanderthal gene pool during the course of their evolution,” Rolf Quam, an anthropologist from Binghamton University in the U.S., who was involved in one of the studies, said in a statement.
The discovery could also explain how Neanderthals’ populations have been found to carry the DNA of Homo sapiens before the two had even crossed paths — the answer could, perhaps, lie in the interbreeding of Homo sapiens and the Nesher Ramla people.
“This is a complicated story, but what we are learning is that the interactions between different human species in the past were much more convoluted than we had previously appreciated,” Quam noted.