Earlier this week we celebrated Rosh HaShana – the Jewish New Year – which marks the creation of man by God at the culmination of the 6 days of creation.

According to current theories in paleontology, modern humans, homo sapiens, left Africa and spread to the rest of the world. When did that happen? New findings from Israel have pushed back that date by 50,000 years. A freshman on his first dig with a group from Tel Aviv University led by Israel Hershkovitz in 2002 discovered a jawbone with 7 intact teeth. This was found in a cave, the Misliya Cave, which had been previously dated to be occupied from 250,000 to 160,000 years ago. When during those almost 100,000 years did this person live here, in a cave on the western slopes of Mt. Carmel, and why did it take almost 20 years to publish the findings from this dig?

Israel lies at the crossroads, not just of history, but also of prehistory. This unique location is a land bridge between the massive continents of Africa, Europe and Asia. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this important function has led to the discovery of human remains in Israel including some others discussed on this site, here. When humans came out of Africa, they found deer, gazelles, aurochs (ancestors of cows), turtles, hares and ostriches occupying the fertile region sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the desert. The Carmel Mountains and other mountainous limestone areas had natural caves which provided protection and shelter. These conditions made Israel a good stop for human expansion into Europe and Asia. The jawbone’s “owner” surely enjoyed these surroundings.

In order to date the jawbone, it went on a journey around the world. Using modern techniques, the bone was confirmed to be modern and not from Neanderthals. Definitive dating placed the bone at 177,000 to 194,000 years old – during the occupation period of the cave.  All of these investigations took almost 2 decades – a drop in the bucket for this almost 200,000 year old bone. The bone’s age was a big shock to the world paleontological world since it pushed back man’s ascent from Africa by about 50,000 years! This makes Mt. Carmel the site of the earliest homo sapiens who made it out of Africa, adding it to the list of Israel’s firsts in the history of mankind.

Happy Birthday to us!
And a good Rosh HaShana New Year to all of mankind!

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