Researchers say teeth go back 400,000 years; others say claim is premature
JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists say they may have found the earliest evidence yet for the existence of modern humans.
A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said Monday they found teeth that were about 400,000 years old. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half that old, and were discovered in Ethiopia.
Archaeologist Avi Gopher said Monday further research is needed to solidify the claim, which is detailed in the December edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. If the claim is borne out, the discovery would change "the whole picture of evolution," he said.
Accepted scientific theory is that Homo sapiens originated in Africa and migrated outward about 80,000 years ago.
Sir Paul Mellars, a prehistory expert at Cambridge University, said that the find is "important," but that it was premature to say the remains are from modern man. He said the teeth are more likely from ancient relatives of Homo sapiens, such as the Neanderthals or their ancestors, which are thought to have left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago.
The teeth were found in the Qesem Cave, which was uncovered by Gopher and a colleague at Tel Aviv University, Ran Barkai. An international team of experts analyzed the teeth, using CT scans and X-rays, and determined that their sizes and shapes were similar to those of modern humans, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Other artifacts found in the cave — including flint blades as well as animal bones that appeared to be cut in a characteristic way — led the researchers to conclude that modern humans lived in the cave. Radioisotope dating suggests that the cave was occupied between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago.