Modern human dispersal into Europe came from the Levant

Jun 5, 2015

by Phys.org

A multinational team led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), working in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Leiden, Groningen (the Netherlands), Mainz (Germany), York and Cambridge (UK), analysed shells recovered at Ksâr ‘Akil, a site in Lebanon. Ksâr ‘Akil is one of the few sites in the Near East where modern human fossils are associated with Upper Palaeolithic (UP) tools. The authors radiocarbon-dated the shell carbonates of the mollusc species Phorcus turbinatus that was eaten by prehistoric humans. Using several independent lines of evidence in a novel approach, they could show that modern humans carrying a UP toolkit occupied the Levant at least 45,900 years ago. This confirms UP modern human presence in the Levant prior to their arrival in Europe and suggests that the Levant served as a corridor for the colonization of Europe by modern humans.

The timing of the spread of out of Africa and into Eurasia is currently a topic of major debate among archaeologists, human paleontologists and geneticists. When did modern humans first arrive in Europe and what route did they take? Did the Levant serve as a corridor facilitating Upper Palaeolithic modern human dispersal? “The problem is that we have very few human remains associated with the early Upper Palaeolithic in both the Levant and Europe,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

“The importance of Ksâr ‘Akil lies in the fact that we have two modern human fossils, nicknamed ‘Ethelruda’ and ‘Egbert’ by the original excavators, associated with Upper Palaeolithic toolkits from the site,” explains Marjolein Bosch from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the lead author of the study. The authors report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA new age estimations for these two fossils. “Our analyses show that Egbert lived around 43,000 years ago and Ethelruda at least 45,900 years ago, possibly earlier. Therefore, Ethelruda pre-dates all European modern humans,” says Johannes van der Plicht from the Center for Isotopic Research of Groningen University. “Toolkits similar to those associated with Ethelruda and Egbert are also found in other sites in the Levant as well as in Europe. These similar toolkits and the earlier ages in the Near East suggest population dispersals from the Near East to Europe between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago,” explains Bosch.


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14 comments on “Modern human dispersal into Europe came from the Levant

  • I could hardly imagine it being otherwise. Crossing the Bosporus would have been difficult. You might be able to do it with just a log. Our exploring ancestors were probably vigorous teens.



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  • An example of how we modern humans conceive the world as neat compartmentalised patterns. I see “migration” as an extended form of foraging and I think that foraging is very much a back and forth affair randomised to an extent but controlled by the natural selection of hitting on happy hunting grounds at the fortunate time and place.
    Then again some groups preferred to turn left and others to turn right as did earlier hominids and some left traces which we have found and others did not.
    Then there is the bleeding obvious preference for coastal routes and the Levant is the bottle-neck for both European and Asian expansion.
    That leaves the Gibraltar route for which there is tantalising scraps of evidence, which due to “sod’s law” will not fully materialise until the Levant theory is the established orthodoxy.
    All this is very exciting but each new scrap of evidence does not confirm or confound any of the theories, except perhaps mine which I have labelled “The Haphazard”.



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  • Philoctetes
    Jun 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    All this is very exciting but each new scrap of evidence does not confirm or confound any of the theories, except perhaps mine which I have labelled “The Haphazard”.

    I think yours is like a gas in a container! Random pressure in all directions, but channelled by the actual escape routes available at the time!

    The maps on my essay web link in the first comment, mention changing environmental events, directing migration opportunities and causing extinctions.



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  • Wasn’t the rise in sea level as a result of the melting of the ice, the origin of the flood stories, in the Persian Gulf, the Black Sea and the littoral of the Mediterranean? Folk memories from the various locations impacted by the inundation of the sea, or maybe the collapse of post glacial moraine dams, would have coalesced over time, together with stories of canny farmers saving their livestock (á la Derrida), and eventually morphed into the biblical Flood legend.



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  • eejit
    Jun 8, 2015 at 5:46 am

    Wasn’t the rise in sea level as a result of the melting of the ice, the origin of the flood stories, in the Persian Gulf, the Black Sea and the littoral of the Mediterranean?

    Yep! – and the North Sea separating Britain from Europe.

    The link in my first comment, has graphs showing the ice-ages and freeze and thaw cycles.



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  • Gary
    Jun 9, 2015 at 7:49 am

    The biblical story of the flood was stolen from the epic of Gilgamesh.

    http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/the_flood_tablet.aspx
    This, the eleventh tablet of the Epic, describes the meeting of Gilgamesh with Utnapishtim. Like Noah in the Hebrew Bible, Utnapishtim had been forewarned of a plan by the gods to send a great flood. He built a boat and loaded it with all his precious possessions, his kith and kin, domesticated and wild animals and skilled craftsmen of every kind.

    Utnapishtim survived the flood for six days while mankind was destroyed, before landing on a mountain called Nimush. He released a dove and a swallow but they did not find dry land to rest on, and returned. Finally a raven that he released did not return, showing that the waters must have receded.



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