Scientists have known for some time that humans and Neanderthals have lived side by side, but the evidence for this, while present, was scarce. Now, a new piece of evidence was discovered that supports the theory that humans and Neanderthals really did mate and produced offspring. The results of this study were published in the journal Nature.
A human skull that dates back over 55,000 years ago was discovered in a cave and it is just the thing that scientists need to complete the puzzle of interbreeding of the Neanderthals and humans. The skull is in pretty bad shape, as it was damaged by extreme weather conditions, such as heat and humidity, but scientists believe that it belonged to a female.
So when exactly did humans and Neanderthals interbred? Well, it appears that the two species interbred when they left Africa and passed, on their way to Europe, through Middle East.
The skull that appears to be a very important piece of the human and Neanderthal interbreeding puzzle was discovered in Manot Cave cave in Northern Israel. The skull is another proof that humans and Neanderthals weren’t just living side by side, but they were interbreeding.
It was determined that the skull was around 55,000 years old, which means that it dates from a time period when Homo Sapiens were leaving Africa for other continents. In fact, there is just a piece of skull, the upper part of it, without the jaws or the face, but the scientists are able to learn a lot of the little piece of domed skull.
Scientists stated that the characteristics of the piece of skull point at the fact that the human in question was closely related to the first Homo Sapiens individuals that would colonize Europe. This is also the first piece of concrete evidence that humans inhabited the same region as the Neanderthals at the same time, which was around the time when Neanderthals were becoming extinct. Israel Hershkovitz, an anthropologist at the Tel Aviv University and the lead author of the study calls the piece of skull an important piece of the puzzle of the big story of human evolution.
Hershkovitz stated that the co-existence of humans and Neanderthals in such a small geographic region and at the same time along with the genetic proof points at the fact that the two species have interbred in the Levant region.
As mentioned, this is not the first piece of evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred, but it is the most important. For example, another very important piece of the evolutionary puzzle is the fact that all people of Eurasian ancestry still have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA.
Bruce Latimer, paleontologist at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland is another scientist who took part in the examination and research of the skull. He revealed that the skull is the first direct fossil evidence that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals lived together in the same area at the same time. He added that most likely the skull belonged to a woman, but the scientists can’t really tell for sure, as the skull and skeletons of men and women are identical.
The general consensus about our own species is that it has first appeared about 200,000 years ago in Africa. From there, people have migrated all over the world; the Manot Cave in Israel is located along the traveled route that the ancient humans used to take from Africa into Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The cave had been sealed off for a whopping 30,000 years. In 2008 workers who were digging for a new sewage line stumbled across it. The archeologists found inside a plethora of hunting tools, animals bones, perforated seashells and human remains.
Neanderthals had large brows, were quite tall (males were 64–168 cm (65–66 in) and females about 152–156 cm (60–61 in) tall) and robust and were thriving from around 50,000 to 40,000 years ago in Europe and Asia. They were extinct after the Homo sapiens arrived and took over their territory. In 2013 evidence was uncovered that led scientists to believe that Neanderthals used to bury their dead and performed burial rituals.
Image Source: National Geographic