Scientists have examined the UB 10749 vertebra fossil, which was discovered in 1966 at the ancient site of Ubeidiya in the Jordan Valley of Israel.
The vertebra most likely originated from a child around six to twelve years old at the time of death, who was tall for his age and might have grown to be 6.5 feet tall if he had lived, according to the experts.
His death is unknown, but his bones are the oldest evidence of ancient man uncovered in Israel.
The size differences between the fossil and other findings at Dmanisi, another Georgian archaeological site, show that two distinct human groups arrived in Europe hundreds of thousands of years ago.
The first wave of ancient human migration arrived in Georgia about 1.8 million years ago, while the second wave arrived in Israel around 1.5 million years ago.
Researchers from Bar-Ilan University, Ono Academic College, the University of Tulsa, and the Israel Antiquities Authority spearheaded the new study.
They were able to calculate an age of death based on the size of the fossil and the amount of ‘ossification,’ or the production of new bone as individuals age.
‘We report on the oldest large-bodied hominid remains from the Levantine corridor — a juvenile vertebra (UB 10749) identified during a reanalysis of the faunal remains from the Early Pleistocene site of Ubeidiya, Israel,’ the team writes in their study.
‘The vertebra belonged to a child who had not yet entered puberty… UB 10749’s age of death is estimated to be between 6 and 12 years old.’
Dr. Alon Barash of Bar-Ilan University, the study’s lead author, told MailOnline that the mythical site of Ubeidiya has previously been dated to 1.5 million years ago.
‘This is based on the kind of creatures discovered there, as well as some preliminary dating done a long time ago,’ he said.
According to Dr. Barash and his colleagues, prehistoric human migration from Africa to Eurasia happened in waves, not all at once.
The researchers claim to know this because of ‘paleobiological discrepancies’ between UB 10749 discovered in Israel and other early bones discovered at Georgia’s Dmanisi archaeological site.
These morphological distinctions indicate that Ubeidiya and Dmanisi were home to ‘two different hominins’ that migrated from Africa 200-300 thousand years apart.
The researchers claim that people in Ubeidiya were larger than Georgia’s short-statured hominins.
‘The changes are in size and form,’ says the author. Dr. Barash informed MailOnline about his findings. ‘The Dmanisi vertebra are smaller — Georgian hominins are around 1.5 meters [4.9 feet] tall and weigh 35-45 kg.’
Meanwhile, the recently discovered vertebra from Ubeidiya implies a significantly larger person, he claims.
In fact, the absence of ossification in this vertebra fossil was the sole factor that reduced the total age estimate to 6-12 years.
The size of the vertebra fossil alone implies an older age, most likely between 11 and 15 years, since it is so large.
Dr. Barash told MailOnline, ‘Our vertebra belongs to a youngster, and the adult size forecast is conservatively approximately 1.8-2 meters [5.9 to 6.5 feet] and 90-100 kilograms.’
‘Even if this is an adult vertebra (with a child’s degree of ossification), it is still rather large. They seem to be various shapes. Dmanisi have a longer and rounder shape.’
Human evolution started around six million years ago in Africa, according to existing fossil evidence and DNA studies.
Ancient humans – almost but not quite in modern form – started to move from Africa and spread over Eurasia some two million years ago, a phenomenon known as the ‘Out of Africa.’
Ubeidiya, near the kibbutz of Beit Zera in the Jordan Valley, is one of the sites where archaeological evidence for this dispersion can be found.
Between 1960 and 1999, many teams explored Ubeidiya, the second oldest archaeological site outside of Africa (after Dmanisi).
Stone and flint artifacts, basalt hand-axes, chopping tools, and flint flakes have all been discovered in Ubeidiya.
A remarkable collection of stone tools and ancient animal bones from species such as the saber-toothed tiger, mammoths, and a big buffalo, as well as creatures not seen today in Israel, such as baboons, warthogs, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and jaguars, were discovered in Ubeidiya.
Professor Miriam Belmaker of the University of Tulsa and Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority have begun excavations at Ubeidiya thanks to funding from the US National Science Foundation.
To improve the site’s dating to 1.5 million years and analyze the paleoecology and paleoclimate of the area, the group applied novel absolute dating techniques.
Professor Belmaker came upon the human vertebra that first recovered in 1966 while studying through the fossils from the site, which are currently stored at the Hebrew University’s National Natural History Collections.
Dr. Barash and Professor Ella Been examined the bone and determined it to be a human lumbar vertebra. It’s the oldest fossil evidence of ancient human bones unearthed in Israel, dating back 1.5 million years.
According to Dr. Barash, there has been a continuous dispute in the scientific literature regarding whether the migration was a single event or happened in waves, but the recent discovery from Ubeidiya provides “unambiguous proof” on this subject.
‘We now have unequivocal proof of the existence of two different dispersion waves due to the difference in size and form of the vertebra from Ubeidiya and those discovered in the Republic of Georgia,’ he added.
Researchers believe climate was a major factor in why the two groups fled Africa.
‘One of the major concerns about human dispersion from Africa was the ecological circumstances that may have aided dispersal,’ says the study. Professor Belmaker said the following.
‘Previous hypotheses differed on whether early people favored an African savanna or a new, more humid wooded environment.’
‘Our recent discovery of separate human species in Dmanisi and Ubeidiya is consistent with our previous discovery that the two locations’ temperatures varied.
‘Ubeidiya is more humid and fits into a Mediterranean climate, whilst Dmanisi is drier and fits into a savannah environment.
‘The fact that each group favored a distinct habitat supports our research revealing two species, each creating a separate stone tool culture.’