A fossilised fragment of a human jawbone some 180,000 years old has overturned existing theories about the history of mankind.
The fossil was unearthed by a large international research team, led by Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University in Misliya Cave on Mount Carmel, a coastal mountain range in northern Israel.
This find, which is the earliest fossil of a modern human found outside Africa, suggests that modern humans left the African continent at least 50,000 years earlier than previously believed.
The jawbone has been dated to between 175,000-200,000 years old, dramatically altering estimates of the first humans arrival in what is now Israel.
Given the apparent age of the find, it is also suggestive of mixing with other early human groups, such as Neanderthals.
Rolf Quam, Binghamton University anthropology professor and a co-author of the study, said: "Misliya is an exciting discovery. It provides the clearest evidence yet that our ancestors first migrated out of Africa much earlier than we previously believed.
“It also means that modern humans were potentially meeting and interacting during a longer period of time with other archaic human groups, providing more opportunity for cultural and biological exchanges."
"While all of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, some features are also found in Neanderthals and other human groups.
"One of the challenges in this study was identifying features in Misliya that are found only in modern humans. These are the features that provide the clearest signal of what species the Misliya fossil represents."
The archaeological evidence uncovered by the team reveals that the inhabitants of Misliya Cave were skilled hunters who understood how to use fire and used tools consistent with Early Middle Paleolithic cultures such as the very earliest modern humans in Africa.