Findings indicate fossilized teeth and tools could be from crucial evolutionary period when Homo Ergaster-Erectus evolved into Homo Sapiens

Entrance to cave

Entrance to cave Dovrut Rosh Ha’ayin

Archeologists exploring the Qesem cave near the Tel Aviv suburb of Rosh Ha’ayin have made discoveries that could prove to have at least as much scientific importance as those made by Louis and Richard Leakey, Raymond Dart and Donald Johanson. 

Some of the findings go back as far as 1.5 million years ago, but the most interesting and potentially most important ones are from approximately 200,000-400,000 years ago.

These include a range of stone tools fabricated from nearby flint deposits and animal bones, and a dozen teeth clearly belonging to whoever made and used those tools.

The teeth show strong evidence of belonging to a hereto unknown species of Homo, far more evolved than Homo Erectus, but not quite at the level of us Homo Sapiens and our close cousin Homo Neanderthalensis, both of whose remains have been discovered in other caves relatively (30 -60 miles) nearby.

The technology level of the tools, and the advanced recycling of raw materials are clear evidence of capabilities beyond those Homo Erectus is believed to have possessed.

Until now, the earliest findings of Homo Sapiens are from approximately 200,000 years ago. They were discovered in South Africa, where many important finds pertaining to human evolution have been found.

The Rosh Ha’ayin findings show capabilities comparable with those from 200,000 years ago. The teeth also show they belonged to a being far closer to Homo Sapiens than to Homo Erectus, very possibly the long sought after proto Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis, from whom both derived.      

Researchers believe that a changing environment jump-started Homo Erectus into a more advanced mode, the one from which Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthals would emerge. Climatic changes in the Middle East caused elephants, which had been the prime food source of Homo Erectus to become extinct in the area.

This meant they had to adapt from hunting elephants to hunting deer. This is much more challenging. Deer are smaller, swifter and more elusive, making them harder to hunt. This meant better weapons were required. Since it takes over 50 deer to provide meat equal to one elephant, hunting forays had to become much more frequent. 

The response to these challenges was expedited development.  Homo Erectus emerged in Africa approximately 1.5-1.8 million years ago, and remained almost unchanged for at least a million years, with a brain size of around 1,000 cc (Homo Sapiens’ brain size is 1,350 cc). Based on their preliminary findings, researchers believe the brains of the early humans who inhabited the cave and made the tools were significantly bigger than that of Homo Erectus, and almost equal to ours.

Their improved brains enabled them to begin crafting sharp tools from flint, racing ahead of their time and their Homo Erectus contemporaries in Europe and Africa.

In addition, the findings have confirmed that Qesem cave is the earliest known site of organized cooking. “These people systematically used fire for cooking like we turn on the gas”, said Barkai. Home Erectus knew how to make use of fire, but had not mastered it the way these people had, a capability until now thought to be the sole domain of Homo Sapiens, Homo Neanderthalensis and the relatively recently discovered Denisovans.  “This was the high technology of the ancient man,” said Professor Barkai, who has been leading the dig. 

The findings indicate that life at Qesem cave was highly organized. Different areas served different functions, there was a kitchen, a workshop and an area where children were taught tool making.

 According to Professor Barkai, these early humans developed an independent, local culture that stretched across the territory that now includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“Evidence of some of the same behaviors and capabilities have been found as far away as Syria, which indicates there was some level of communications and interactions between early human populations in the region”. “I cannot explain how”, he said. “There obviously did not have Wi-Fi, but they were in touch with each other.”