A key event in human evolution is the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia between 60 and 40 thousand years (kyr) before present (bp), replacing all other forms of hominins1. Owing to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations remain largely enigmatic. Here we describe a partial calvaria, recently discovered at Manot Cave (Western Galilee, Israel) and dated to 54.7 ± 5.5 kyr bp (arithmetic mean ± 2 standard deviations) by uranium–thorium dating, that sheds light on this crucial event. The overall shape and discrete morphological features of the Manot 1 calvaria demonstrate that this partial skull is unequivocally modern. It is similar in shape to recent African skulls as well as to European skulls from the Upper Palaeolithic period, but different from most other early anatomically modern humans in the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans who later successfully colonized Europe. Thus, the anatomical features used to support the ‘assimilation model’ in Europe might not have been inherited from European Neanderthals, but rather from earlier Levantine populations. Moreover, at present, Manot 1 is the only modern human specimen to provide evidence that during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic interface, both modern humans and Neanderthals contemporaneously inhabited the southern Levant, close in time to the likely interbreeding event with Neanderthals2,3.
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The excavation at Manot Cave was initiated and supported throughout the years by the late D. David, founder of the ‘Dan David Prize’, and his son A. David. The ongoing research is financially supported by the Dan David Foundation, the Israel Antiquities Authority, Case Western Reserve University, the Leakey Foundation, the Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation, the Keren Kayemet L’Israel and the Israel Science Foundation. Radiocarbon dating research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Exilarch’s Foundation and the Max Planck Society–Weizman Institute Joint Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology. Geological research was supported by The Bertha and Louis Weinstein Research Fund. We thank other research members of the Manot team: J.-M. Tejero and S. Weiner. We thank A. Behar and L. Barda for their drawings, C. Amit for the photography of the skull, and V. Essman and Y. Shmidov for surveying and drafting the cave. We thank I. Mureinik for editorial assistance. Special thanks are due to the following students and scholars: L. Weissbrod, D. Stein, H. Cohen, B. Medlej, M. Feldman, O. Hay, T. Abulafia, L. Davis, N. Schneller-Pels, D. Yegorov, M. Ullman and G. Hertzelinger. Thanks are also due to the Maale Yossef Regional Council, the residents of modern Manot and N. Reuven. We are also grateful to the late S. Dorfman, U. Dahari, D. Barshad, E. Stern and J. Goldberg. We thank I. Gilead and O. Bar-Yosef for reading and commenting on a previous version of this paper. We are grateful to C. Stringer for comments and suggestions.
Extended data figures
Extended data tables
This file contains detailed age determination results of flowstones, stalagmites and calcitic crusts.