A partial jawbone and set of flint tools found in a cave in Israel suggests that modern humans may have left the African continent tens of thousands of years earlier than scientists had previously thought.
Researchers who published their findings in the journal Science on Thursday said the jaw, complete with several teeth, was between 177,000 and 194,000 years old.
The estimate indicates that the first Homo sapiens may have left Africa about 220,000 years ago — between 50,000 and 100,000 years earlier than previous fossil discoveries had suggested.
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"The entire narrative of the evolution of Homo sapiens must be pushed back," said Israel Hershkovitz, the study's lead author.
"If modern humans started traveling out of Africa some 200,000 years ago, it follows that they must have originated in Africa at least 300,000-500,000 years ago," the anthropologist from Tel Aviv University added.
Most scientists agree that Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa. The oldest known human fossils there are thought to be 300,000 years old.
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Owner had 'friends'
Hershkovitz's team had found the partial jaw, which belonged to a young adult of unknown gender, in Misliya Cave, about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) south of Haifa in 2002, waiting more than a decade to search for other human remains before publishing their findings.
One of the study's co-authors, Mina Weinstein-Evron, said the age of the 60,000 flint tools, some nearly 250,000 years old, indicated that Homo sapiens may have first exited Africa even earlier.
The research team also said the jaw's owner could not have built all of the tools, suggesting that there were many more humans in the area at the time.
"This guy or woman would have been very busy," Weinstein-Evron said. "He didn't have enough time do this. He couldn't have made all of it. He must have had some friends."
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amp/mkg (dpa, Reuters, AP)