A new type of 'Homo' in the Levant Corridor

The CENIEH participates in a paper published in the journal Science about the finding of a human parietal bone fragment and near-complete jaw at the Israeli site of Nesher Ramla, which casts human evolution in Eurasia in a new light

The finding of new human fossils and numerous tools at the Nesher Ramla site in Israel has been published in twin papers in the journal Science, with the transcendence of the discoveries deservedly making this the cover story. The remains, which are a parietal bone fragment and a near-complete mandible with part of the dentition, dated to about 130,000 years ago, display an unusual combination of characters not previously known from this chronology and geographical area, where only the presence of Homo sapiens and H. neanderthalensis had been identified.

The study, led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, includes a notable Spanish contribution, with four researchers from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH): José María Bermúdez de Castro, María Martinón-Torres and Laura Martín-Francés, of the Dental Anthropology Group, and Emiliano Bruner, of the Paleoneurobiology Group. According to the research team, Nesher Ramla may represent the parent population from which the Neanderthals and certain Asian Middle Pleistocene populations stemmed.

Analysis of the fossils reveals that Nesher Ramla does not fit well into the model known to date for the Levant Corridor, given that many of the traits are more archaic than those of modern humans and Neanderthals from that region. While the skull shows characteristics more typical of the species H. erectus, in the dentition and jaw there are traits normally found in Neanderthal populations.

The origin of the European populations lies not in Africa but in Asia, probably in the Middle East, which is a veritable crossroads

Thus, Nesher Ramla could typify a late survivor of a population inhabiting the Middle East 400,000 years ago, potentially also represented in the fossils found at the Qesem and Zuttiyeh sites, also in Israel, and out of which the Neanderthal lineage of Europe would have arisen. Moreover, Hershkovitz and his colleagues suggest that this population, which they call the “Nesher Ramla Homo type”, could have hybridized with our species H. sapiens, already present in the region 200,000 years ago, as is known from the Israeli site of Misliya.

‘Eureka’ fossil

In addition to its unquestionable value for reconstructing the human phylogeny, the Nesher Ramla fossils would support the theory that the CENIEH Dental Anthropology Group put forward a decade ago, about the role Asia may have played in the settlement of Europe.

“We have been suggesting for many years that the origin of the European populations and many of the Asian ones lies not in Africa but in Asia, probably in the Middle East, which is a veritable crossroads”, comments Bermúdez de Castro, Paleobiology Group Coordinator at the CENIEH.

During the Middle Pleistocene, Europa and Asia would have received an intermittent trickle of populations driven by changing climatic and biogeographical barriers. Nesher Ramla would belong to an ancestor population of the humans who inhabited Eurasia during the Middle Pleistocene and which, in the case of Europe, would have culminated in the appearance of the Neanderthals.

“This is another piece of evidence supporting a connection between the European and Asian populations during the Pleistocene, as we have long suggested in earlier work. These fossils are like a ‘eureka’ moment for our research group and our theories”, states Martinón-Torres, who is also Director of the CENIEH.

María Martinón-Torres, José Mª Bermúdez de Castro y Laura Martín-Francés