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A team made up of researchers from different countries belonging to the Max Planck Institute for Anthropological Evolution, in Leipzig (Germany), in collaboration with the University of Leiden, Groningen, Mainz, York and Cambridge, they analyze the shells recovered in Ksar Akil, a site in Lebanon. Ksar Akil is one of the few places where fossils of modern humans are associated with tools dating from the Upper Palaeolithic.
Researchers have used radiocarbon to dating the shells of the mollusk species Phorcur turbinatus, which were eaten by prehistoric humans. Using new lines of research, they have been able to show that modern humans occupied the Middle East 45,900 years ago, carrying tools from the Upper Paleolithic.
This confirms that the presence in the Middle East during the Upper Paleolithic of modern humans prior to their presence in Europe and suggests that the Middle East was the corridor for European colonization for modern humans. The date of departure of modern humans from Africa and its expansion into Eurasia is still today one of the topics of greatest debate among archaeologists, paleontologists and geneticists.
"The problem is that we have found very few human remains associated with the Upper Palaeolithic in the Middle East and Europe," said Jean-Jacques Hublin, professor at the Max Planck Institute for Anthropological Evolution. "The importance of Ksar Akil is that two fossils of modern humans have been found, which have been called 'Ethelruda' and 'Egbert', associated with tools from the Upper Palaeolithic," explains Marjolein Bosch of the Max Planck Institute for Anthropological Evolution, who directs the study.
"Our analyzes show that 'Egbert' lived about 43,000 years ago and 'Ethlruda' about 45,000 years ago. Therefore, 'Ethlruda' is dated earlier than the rest of modern humans, ”says Johannes van der Plicht, from the University of Groningen.
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"Tools similar to those associated with 'Ethelruda' and 'Egbert' have also been found at other archaeological sites in the Middle East and in Europe, suggesting that the population dispersed from the East to Europe between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago", Explain Bosch.
The researchers have studied and collected around 3,500 shells comprising 49 species found well preserved, these being the ones that modern humans consumed as food. "We know that Phorcus turbinatus were eaten in the Upper Paleolithic because their shells were cut to facilitate the extraction of their meat," explains Marcello Mannino, from the Max Planck Institute.
This combined research has allowed the authors propose a new chronology for Ksar Akil. These results confirm the presence of modern humans carrying Upper Paleolithic tools in the East before any type of modern humans appeared in Europe. "This study shows that the Middle East was the corridor from which modern humans dispersed out of Africa and onto Eurasia," says Jean-Jacques Hublin.