Fossilized Jawbone Hints at a Much Earlier Exodus from Africa

Scientists digging in an Israeli cave uncovered a fossilized jawbone from what they believe is the earliest modern human found outside of Africa. The jawbone includes eight teeth—seven of which are intact. This changes the timeline of when Homo sapiens ventured out of Africa by about 50,000 years.

Scientists uncover a jawbone between 177,000 and 194,000 years old—making it the earliest modern human anyone has ever found outside of Africa.

Anthropologists previously believed that modern humans began leaving Africa 90,000 to 120,000 years ago. But the cave where the jawbone was discovered is thought to be occupied between 160,000 and 250,000 years ago. Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University, found the jawbone and suspected it was evidence of an earlier African exodus.

To test that suspicion, Hershkovitz and his colleagues sent the jawbone on a world tour. First, it traveled to Austria where it underwent high resolution micro-CT scanning and then was compared with with 30 other specimens—which included Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and other Homo sapiens. In Australia, France, and Israel, they used dating techniques to determine the jawbone’s age.

Their results determined that the jawbone is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old—confirming the scientists’ hypothesis. Here’s Nicholas St. Fleur for The New York Times:

“We are now realizing that it was not one big exodus out of Africa in a given time period,” said Dr. Hershkovitz. “Rather, there was a flow of hominins coming in and out of Africa for at least the last half a million years.”

This is not the first time Hershkovitz has found modern human fossils. In 2010, he found 400,000-year-old teeth in Israel, and in 2015 he found a 55,000-year-old skull in the Israel.