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Middle Pleistocene Homo behavior and culture at 140,000 to 120,000 years ago and interactions with Homo sapiens

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Science  25 Jun 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6549, pp. 1429-1433
DOI: 10.1126/science.abh3020

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Middle Pleistocene Homo in the Levant

Our understanding of the origin, distribution, and evolution of early humans and their close relatives has been greatly refined by recent new information. Adding to this trend, Hershkovitz et al. have uncovered evidence of a previously unknown archaic Homo population, the “Nesher Ramla Homo” (see the Perspective by Mirazon Lahr). The authors present comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analyses of fossilized remains from a site in Israel dated to 140,000 to 120,000 years ago indicating the presence of a previously unrecognized group of hominins representing the last surviving populations of Middle Pleistocene Homo in Europe, southwest Asia, and Africa. In a companion paper, Zaidner et al. present the radiometric ages, stone tool assemblages, faunal assemblages, and other behavioral and environmental data associated with these fossils. This evidence shows that these hominins had fully mastered technology that until only recently was linked to either Homo sapiens or Neanderthals. Nesher Ramla Homo was an efficient hunter of large and small game, used wood for fuel, cooked or roasted meat, and maintained fires. These findings provide archaeological support for cultural interactions between different human lineages during the Middle Paleolithic, suggesting that admixture between Middle Pleistocene Homo and H. sapiens had already occurred by this time.

Science, abh3169 and abh3020, this issue p. 1424 and p. 1429; see also abj3077, p. 1395

Abstract

Fossils of a Middle Pleistocene (MP) Homo within a well-defined archaeological context at the open-air site of Nesher Ramla, Israel, shed light on MP Homo culture and behavior. Radiometric ages, along with cultural and stratigraphic considerations, suggest that the fossils are 140,000 to 120,000 years old, chronologically overlapping with H. sapiens in western Asia. Lithic analysis reveals that MP Homo mastered stone-tool production technologies, previously known only among H. sapiens and Neanderthals. The Levallois knapping methods they used are indistinguishable from that of concurrent H. sapiens in western Asia. The most parsimonious explanation for such a close similarity is the cultural interactions between these two populations. These findings constitute evidence of contacts and interactions between H. sapiens and MP Homo.

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