Monday, 5 July 2021

Evolution News - Two Newly Discovered Species of Homo Add Detail To The Picture

Timeline: The Nesher Ramla Homo type was an ancestor of both the Neanderthals in Europe and the archaic Homo populations of Asia.
New Type of Prehistoric Human Discovered in Israel | Tel Aviv University

We have had two pieces of news about new species of related hominins being discovered recently, and they both point to a period in our not-too-distant past when there were several species or subspecies of Homo living contemporaneously in Eurasia. This adds to the picture which has been emerging over recent years of widely scattered human populations evolving in semi-isolation and incompletely speciating, then coming together again and interbreeding, very much like a ring species, so that modern, non-African H. sapiens are the result of multiple hybridizations and have several ancestral species.

It will be interesting to see how Creationists handle this and the news that they probably interbred, so we not only do not have a single founder couple; we do not even have a single founder species, if they don't do the usual thing and ignore the findings, rubbish the science or redefine some standard terms like, 'species' in order to avoid dealing with the inconvenient facts.

First is the report from Israel that the remains of a previously unknown species of hominin has been found in the Nesher Ramla archaeological site, dated to 140,000 to 120,000 years ago. The Tel Aviv University researchers who discovered it believe it maybe the remains of one of the last survivors of a species that lived alongside early Homo sapiens in the Levant.

The discovery of this ancient hominin challenges the consensus view that Neanderthals evolved in Western Europe and the Neanderthal remains found in Israel represent a migration of a small group of Neanderthals into the Middle East. The new find now suggests that Neanderthals could have evolved in the Levant from this archaic pre-Neanderthal hominin and migrated into Western Europe, while other descendants of this 'Ramala Homo' migrated into Asia to become the archaic Asians such as the Denisovans. This latter view is of course consistent with the view that Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other ancient Eurasia hominins, were the descendants of an early migration and dispersal of Homo erectus out of Africa, followed only later by some of its African descendants, Homo sapiens.

The Tel Aviv University News release explains how the find came about:
[This new type of prehistoric human] enables us to make new sense of previously found human fossils, add another piece to the puzzle of human evolution, and understand the migrations of humans in the old world. Even though they lived so long ago, in the late middle Pleistocene (474,000-130,000 years ago), the Nesher Ramla people can tell us a fascinating tale, revealing a great deal about their descendants' evolution and way of life.

Before these new findings, most researchers believed the Neanderthals to be a 'European story', in which small groups of Neanderthals were forced to migrate southwards to escape the spreading glaciers, with some arriving in the Land of Israel about 70,000 years ago. The Nesher Ramla fossils make us question this theory, suggesting that the ancestors of European Neanderthals lived in the Levant as early as 400,000 years ago, repeatedly migrating westward to Europe and eastward to Asia. In fact, our findings imply that the famous Neanderthals of Western Europe are only the remnants of a much larger population that lived here in the Levant – and not the other way around.

Professor Israel Hershkovitz, Joint leader of the Anthropology team
Department of Anatomy and Anthropology
Sackler Faculty of Medicine
Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.
The important human fossil was found by Dr. Zaidner of the Hebrew University during salvage excavations at the Nesher Ramla prehistoric site, in the mining area of the Nesher cement plant (owned by Len Blavatnik) near the city of Ramla. Digging down about 8 meters, the excavators found large quantities of animal bones, including horses, fallow deer and aurochs, as well as stone tools and human bones. An international team led by the researchers from TAU and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem identified the morphology of the bones as belonging to a new type of earlier species, previously unknown to science. This is the first type of prehistoric human species to be defined in Israel, and according to common practice, it was named after the site where it was discovered – the Nesher Ramla Homo type.
It was investigated by two teams of researchers, the Anthropologists, led by Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, Dr. Hila May and Dr. Rachel Sarig from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research and the Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute, situated in the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University; and the Archaeologists, led by Dr. Yossi Zaidner from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both teams have published their complementary papers in the July 2021 (volume 372) edition of Science together with a perspective article by Marta Mirazón Lahr:
It has long been believed that Neanderthals originated and flourished on the European continent. However, recent morphological and genetic studies have suggested that they may have received a genetic contribution from a yet unknown non-European group. Here we report on the recent discovery of archaic Homo fossils from the site of Nesher Ramla, Israel, which we dated to 140,000 to 120,000 years ago. Comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analyses of the parietal bones, mandible, and lower second molar revealed that this Homo group presents a distinctive combination of Neanderthal and archaic features. We suggest that these specimens represent the late survivors of a Levantine Middle Pleistocene paleodeme that was most likely involved in the evolution of the Middle Pleistocene Homo in Europe and East Asia.

This is an extraordinary discovery. We had never imagined that alongside Homo sapiens, archaic Homo roamed the area so late in human history. The archaeological finds associated with human fossils show that Nesher Ramla Homo possessed advanced stone-tool production technologies and most likely interacted with the local Homo sapiens.

Dr. Yossi Zaidner, Leader of the archaeology team
Institute of Archaeology
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel.
Fossils of a Middle Pleistocene (MP) Homo within a well-defined archaeological context at the open-air site of Nesher Ramla, Israel, shed light on MP Homo culture and behavior. Radiometric ages, along with cultural and stratigraphic considerations, suggest that the fossils are 140,000 to 120,000 years old, chronologically overlapping with H. sapiens in western Asia. Lithic analysis reveals that MP Homo mastered stone-tool production technologies, previously known only among H. sapiens and Neanderthals. The Levallois knapping methods they used are indistinguishable from that of concurrent H. sapiens in western Asia. The most parsimonious explanation for such a close similarity is the cultural interactions between these two populations. These findings constitute evidence of contacts and interactions between H. sapiens and MP Homo.

People think in paradigms. That's why efforts have been made to ascribe these fossils to known human groups like Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis or the Neanderthals. But now we say: No. This is a group in itself, with distinct features and characteristics. At a later stage small groups of the Nesher Ramla Homo type migrated to Europe – where they evolved into the 'classic' Neanderthals that we are familiar with, and also to Asia, where they became archaic populations with Neanderthal-like features. As a crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia, the Land of Israel served as a melting pot where different human populations mixed with one another, to later spread throughout the Old World. The discovery from the Nesher Ramla site writes a new and fascinating chapter in the story of humankind.

Dr. Rachel Sarig. Co-author, Archaeology team
Department of Oral Biology
Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine
Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Again from the Tel Aviv University News release:
Neanderthals and Sapiens Sharing Bed
Despite the absence of DNA in these fossils, the findings from Nesher Ramla offer a solution to a great mystery in the evolution of Homo: How did genes of Homo sapiens penetrate the Neanderthal population that presumably lived in Europe long before the arrival of Homo sapiens? Geneticists who studied the DNA of European Neanderthals have previously suggested the existence of a Neanderthal-like population which they called the 'missing population' or the 'X population' that had mated with Homo sapiens more than 200,000 years ago. In the anthropological paper now published in Science, the researchers suggest that the Nesher Ramla Homo type might represent this population, heretofore missing from the record of human fossils. Moreover, the researchers propose that the humans from Nesher Ramla are not the only ones of their kind discovered in the region, and that some human fossils found previously in Israel, which have baffled anthropologists for years - like the fossils from the Tabun cave (160,000 years ago), Zuttiyeh cave (250,000), and Qesem cave (400,000) - belong to the same new human group now called the Nesher Ramla Homo type.
Unlike several hominin fossil finds, which have served to confuse the picture of human evolution and migration into Eurasia, this new discovery appears to add clarity to the picture in that it holds out the possibility of an answer to several questions. What is needed now is some DNA from this new species...

The Harbin cranium (HBSM2018-000018(A))
(A) Anterior view.
(B) Lateral view, left side. Scale bar indicates 50 mm.
Late Middle Pleistocene Harbin cranium represents a new Homo species: The Innovation

The second new species in the news very recently was that of a new archaic hominin discovered China which the news media have dubbed, 'Dragon Man', not from any resemblance it had to a mythical beast but from the common usage name (Long Jiang) of the place it was found, Heilongjiang Province, China, which translates as "Dragon River". The new species of hominin has been named Homo longi sp. nov.

Life reconstruction of the Harbin cranium
The specimen is described as:
An undistorted and almost complete cranium (HBSM2018-000018(A)).
According to information from Cell Press, it was found in:
[The] upper part of the Upper Huangshan Formation (∼138–309 ka), near the Dongjiang Bridge in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China.
The Harbin fossil is one of the most complete human cranial fossils in the world. This fossil preserved many morphological details that are critical for understanding the evolution of the Homo genus and the origin of Homo sapiens.

While it shows typical archaic human features, the Harbin cranium presents a mosaic combination of primitive and derived characters setting itself apart from all the other previously-named Homo species.

Professor Qiang Ji, Corresponding author
Professor of paleontology
Hebei GEO University, Shijiazhuang, China
It has been reliably given a minimal age, using U-series dating, of 148±2 ka, which places it in the Middle Pleistocene. A detailed description and comparison with other archaic hominins is given in Cell Press' The Inovation:
Comparative morphology

The Harbin cranium is massive in size, larger than all other known-archaic humans.1 The endocranial capacity is estimated as ∼1,420 ml, falling in the range of H. sapiens and Neanderthals, and larger than other Homo species such as H. erectus, H. naledi, H. floresiensis, and even some H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis.
The Harbin cranium is relatively long and low and lacks the globularity of the modern human braincase. The frontal is receding, and the parietal is evenly curved. The supraorbital torus is massive and continuous, and the postorbital constriction is much deeper than in H. sapiens. The large endocranial volume of Harbin cranium is reflected in more parallel side walls of the temporals and parietals, but the cranium lacks the H. sapiens-like parietal bosses. The thickness of the supraorbital torus is proportionally much greater than that of later H. sapiens. The Harbin cranium does also share some similarities with H. sapiens. Its facial height is very low, the zygomaxillary region is flat with a shallow canine fossa, and the overall prognathism is reduced, showing a similar condition to recent humans. The basion angle-nasion angle plot indicates that the Harbin cranium is much closer to H. sapiens than to H. erectus and H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis, and the face is hafted onto the braincase with reduced prognathism. In its combination of traits Harbin is more like fossils attributed to early H. sapiens, such as Jebel Irhoud 1 and Eliye Springs, than to later members of our lineage.

There are very small angular tori inferiorly on the parietals, proportionally much smaller than those in H. erectus. The occipital has a relatively rounded lateral profile, presenting a less flexed form than that typical of H. erectus. The occipital torus is almost absent, much weaker than in H. erectus. The face is relatively low, and lacks the anterior projection typical of H. erectus. Postorbital constriction is also proportionally shallower than in most members of H. erectus. The tympanic bone of the Harbin cranium is flat and thin, and lacks the robusticity typical of H. erectus.

Like Homo sapiens, they hunted mammals and birds, and gathered fruits and vegetables, and perhaps even caught fish

It is widely believed that the Neanderthal belongs to an extinct lineage that is the closest relative of our own species. However, our discovery suggests that the new lineage we identified that includes Homo longi is the actual sister group of H. sapiens

The divergence time between H. sapiens and the Neanderthals may be even deeper in evolutionary history than generally believed, over one million years.

Altogether, the Harbin cranium provides more evidence for us to understand Homo diversity and evolutionary relationships among these diverse Homo species and populations. We found our long-lost sister lineage.

Professor Xijun Ni, Co-author
Professor of primatology and paleoanthropology
Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hebei GEO University.
The Harbin cranial vault lacks the parasagittal flattening and keeling found in some H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis. The occipital bone lacks the angulation and strong transverse torus. The face is relatively low, and lacks the anterior projection as in the Broken Hill, Petralona, Bodo, and Arago fossils. Postorbital constriction is also proportionally shallower than in most members of H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis. The cheekbones do not show the Neanderthal-like inflation found in large specimens of H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis. Compared with Neanderthals, the Harbin cranium also has a massive and curved supraorbital torus, with strong lateral thickness. Postorbital constriction of the Harbin cranium is proportionally deeper than those of Neanderthals. The occipital surface lacks both a “chignon” and a centrally developed suprainiac fossa typical of Neanderthals. The zygomaxillary angle is somewhat larger than in Neanderthals and approaches that of H. sapiens, indicating a less medial projection of the midface. The zygomaxillary area is flattened and without maxillary inflation. The single molar tooth is huge by Neanderthal standards.

H. antecessor is much smaller than the Harbin cranium, with weaker supraorbital development, much smaller endocranial volume, narrower upper face width, and much smaller M.2

Differing from the Dali cranium, Harbin lacks sagittal keeling and presents proportionally larger and almost square orbits, overall thinner and smoother supraorbital tori with a weaker superciliary arch, and weaker lateral thinning.
Geographical abstract
The Jinniushan cranium has a similar cranial capacity (∼1,390 ml) to the Harbin, but is more gracile. Harbin has a proportionally broader anterior maxillary region, larger and squarer orbits, thicker supraorbital tori, and a larger molar than the Jinniushan. The recently described Hualongdong skull belonged to an adolescent individual. It resembles the Dali cranium and differs from the Harbin in presenting strong frontal sagittal keeling and thick supraorbital tori with a strong superciliary arch. Compared with the Harbin and Dali, the Hualongdong skull has a proportionally narrower and longer face, narrower nasal aperture, and shallower canine fossae. Some of these differences may be due to the younger age of the Hualongdong individual. The Xuchang cranium has a much larger cranial capacity, but a wider, lower braincase with reduced bone thickness. Its supraorbital tori are much thinner, and its mastoid processes are much smaller. The supraorbital torus of the Maba partial cranium is thinner and more curved, the nasal bone more projecting, and the frontal and parietal are thinner than in the Harbin cranium. The orbital shape and projecting upper nasal region of the Maba cranium look particularly similar to those of Neanderthals.

We see multiple evolutionary lineages of Homo species and populations co-existing in Asia, Africa, and Europe during that time. So, if Homo sapiens indeed got to East Asia that early, they could have a chance to interact with H. longi, and since we don't know when the Harbin group disappeared, there could have been later encounters as well.

Chris Stringer, Co-author.
Centre for Human Evolution Research,
Department of Earth Sciences
Natural History Museum, London, UK

Overall, the Harbin cranium shows a distinctive combination of apomorphic and plesiomorphic features. These features present a clear diagnosis, supporting the Harbin cranium as a new species of Homo, which is distinctive from other designated Middle-Late Pleistocene human taxa, such as H. sapiens, H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, and H. heidelbergensis/rhodesiensis.

The Dali cranium was initially proposed as a subspecies of H. sapiens (H. s. daliensis) by Xinzhi Wu, but Wu abandoned the subspecies name and called the cranium “archaic H. sapiens” in his later publications.3 It was also suggested to be a subspecies of H. heidelbergensis (H. h. daliensis),4 or should be raised to the species level (H. daliensis).5 The Hualongdong cranium shows a lot of interesting similarities with the Dali cranium. Based on our morphological comparisons and the phylogenetic analyses,1 we suggest that both the Dali and Hualongdong crania should be referred to H. daliensis. The Harbin cranium, on the other hand, shows clear diagnostic features differing from the Dali and Hualongdong crania. Here, we raise a new species name for the Harbin cranium to reflect these significant differences. Given the sister-group relationship between the Harbin cranium and the Xiahe mandible,1 it is possible that both specimens belong to H. longi sp. nov. Further human fossils from the Middle Pleistocene of China and neighboring areas will test this idea.
As with the previous find in Israel, this find in China is consistent with the view that an early achaic hominin, such as H. erectus, migrated out of Africa and diversified into species and subspecies as it spread across Asia, giving rise to the Western Neanderthals, the Denisovans and other morphologically distinct local species which nevertheless retained the ability to interbreed with varying degrees of success both with one another and, later with H. sapiens as this later wave of migration out of Africa came into contact with them.

Clearly, there is a lot more still to be discovered concerning the evolution of our species and how we relate to the various archaic forms being discovered as evidence of the diversification of the non-African hunter-gatherer hominins in the vastness of the Eurasian landmass, with its many opportunities for partial evolution in isolation and then remerging and remixing. Meanwhile, of course, similar processes would have been going on in Africa as early humans spread across that continent too.

I might well soon need to revise my book, What Makes You so Special? From the Big Bang to You to take account of this emerging picture from the early stages of human global dispersal.

Thank you for sharing!

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