A new kind of early human has been identified that lived alongside our species more than 100,000 years ago.
They believe the remains, uncovered near the city of Ramla, could be one of the “last survivors” of a very ancient human group.
Findings reveal the species lived alongside Homo sapiens for more than 100,000 years and may have even interbred.
Fragments of a skull and a lower jaw with teeth were found to date back around 130,000 years.
The breakthrough could force a rethink of parts of the human family tree, according to researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The newly discovered early human has been named the “Nesher Ramla Homo” after the place where it was found southeast of Tel Aviv.
Nesher Ramla Homo
Team members believe the Nesher Ramla Homo descended from an earlier species that may have spread out of the region hundreds of thousands of years ago.
This could have led to Neanderthals in Europe and their counterparts in Asia.
The early humans, who had very large teeth and no chin, may have also been ancestors of the Neanderthals, challenging the current thinking that our evolutionary cousins originated in Europe - according to the study.
“The discovery of a new type of Homo is of great scientific importance,” said Professor Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, one of the leaders of the team who analysed the remains.
“It enables 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.”
TOOLS AND BONES
Dr Yossi Zaidner of the Hebrew University found the fossils while exploring the mining area of the Nesher cement plant near the city of Ramla.
Excavators uncovered the bones about 25ft deep among stone tools and the bones of horses and deer.
“This is what makes us suggest that this Nesher Ramla group is actually a large group that started very early in time and are the source of the European Neanderthal,” said Dr Hila May, a physical anthropologist at Tel Aviv University
Experts have never been able to fully explain how Homo sapiens genes were present in the earlier Neanderthal population in Europe, Dr May said, and the Nesher Ramla may be the mystery group responsible.
“The jaw bone had no chin and the skull was flat,” she said.
Later, 3D shape analysis ruled out relation to any other known group.
However, they did match a small number of human fossils found elsewhere in Israel which dated back even earlier.
“As a crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia, the Land of Israel served as a melting pot where different human populations mixed with one another to later spread throughout the Old World,” said Dr Rachel Sarig, from Tel Aviv University.