Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Tooth in Israel

A research team from Tel Aviv University is touting a new find as being from anatomically modern Homo sapiens. The story, from the AP has this to say:
A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said Monday they found teeth about 400,000 years old. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half that old.

Archaeologist Avi Gopher said Monday further research is needed to solidify the claim. If it does, he says, "this changes the whole picture of evolution."
The story is a bit confused since Neandertals are considered Homo sapiens as well, just not modern ones. It is ordinarily not very easy to distinguish between Neandertal teeth and modern teeth, except for size and that is not always a good indicator. Ordinarily, you have to have more diagnostic areas of the skeleton. Given that the earliest moderns we now have come from the site of Herto, dated to 160 ky, it is not likely that the tooth is modern. If it were, it would mean that there is a modern populaton running around during a time when the transition from Homo erectus/ergaster to archaic Homo sapiens (Neandertals and their kin) was occurring everywhere else. It would also mean that the Levantine populations that followed them 300k years later were more archaic than those represented by the tooth. That would be a tad peculiar.

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