|15 June 2017
Bones in Israel rewrite Neanderthal history
Previously known only from cave sites, the recent discovery from about 60,000 years ago of Neanderthal remains and material culture at an open-air site at Ein Kashish, on the banks of the Kishon river in northern Israel, counters the assumption that Neanderthals were mostly cave-dwellers on the verge of extinction when Homo sapiens arrived about 55,000 years ago. It is the first such discovery in the Levant.
Humans are known to have reached the Levant between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago, but that group evidently died out. Neanderthals were in the Levant between about 80,000 and 55,000 years ago.
This discovery of remains from two individuals is the first in the Levant to be found in an open-air context and proven to be Neanderthal. Of one, only a single back tooth was found, in association with flint tools and animal bones. The second was a teenager or young man about 164 centimetres tall, who had injuries that would have caused him to limp. His five lower limb bones were found with multiple artifacts, including flint tools, animal bones, a roe deer antler, a seashell, and some unusual finds for this period, such as ochre.
The remains were dated to the late Middle Paleolithic period, between 70,000 and 60,000 years ago, roughly when modern man is believed to have passed through here moving north from Africa. Genetic evidence shows that modern humans cross-bred with Neanderthals after leaving Africa, and many believe this happened in the Levant.
Doctor Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority, says: "One hypothesis among some anthropologists had been that when modern man arrived, Neanderthals were already weakened and would have died out anyway. But they were not at that point in danger of extinction. They ruled the area. If they were already growing scarce, their remains from the time wouldn't have been found at so many sites in Israel."
The Levant is the only known region where the two populations existed during the Middle Paleolithic. One explanation for Neanderthals disappearance is the increasing dry climate of the period. The finds from Ein Kashish suggest Neanderthal groups repeatedly returned to the open-air sites during this time.
Edited from Israel Antiquities Authority (June 2017), The Jerusalem Post (7 June 2017), Haaretz (8 June 2017)
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