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14 January 2018
New evidence of dispersal of early modern humans out of Africa

Finds from caves in the Levant, particularly the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in northern Israel, have often been cited as evidence to support the theory that early modern humans left Africa in a single wave perhaps 100,000 or more years ago and occupied locations in the Levant, later dying out due to environmental change and the lack of more advanced stone technology. Based on other finds and genetic evidence, theirs has been portrayed as a short-lived movement, with a more successful dispersal out of Africa around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, however recent findings in other parts of the world challenge the dating of the later dispersal.
     A recent study of stone artifacts recovered decades ago in the Skhul Cave on what is now Mount Carmel in Israel, suggests the occupation of the Levant by early modern humans during the Pleistocene was longer and more complex than previously thought. Huw S Groucutt of the University of Oxford and colleagues analysed dozens of stone cores, flakes, retouched stone tools, and one hammerstone, providing the first complete examination of the assemblage using modern techniques, and comparing them to those excavated at other palaeolithic sites. Integrating their data with previous research from the Skhul and Qafzeh caves - dated respectively to about 130 to 120,000 and 95,000 years ago - places the artifacts among the first early modern humans known outside of Africa. While recognising that other hypotheses could explain their results, the authors suggest multiple dispersals of Homo sapiens out of Africa between 130,000 and 80,000 years ago, corresponding with humid phases, alternating with phases of aridity.
     The original excavations of Skhul Cave in the early 1930s yielded stone tools and other finds, including human fossil remains representing seven adults and three children, some of whom were thought to have been intentionally buried. Generally accepted as early modern human, the fossils show characteristics associated with both Neanderthals and modern humans, and are thought to represent some of the earliest modern humans to occupy regions outside of Africa. The finds support the theory that early modern humans and Neanderthals lived concurrently in Eurasia for a time, and may even have interbred in the Levant.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (2 January 2018)

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