Manot Cave - Early Modern Humans Out of Africa and Into the Levant

A Skull Cap in Israel May Be From a Middle Paleolithic Explorer

Interior of Manot Cave, Israel
Interior of Manot Cave, Israel. Israel Hershkovitz, Ofer Marder & Omry Barzilai

Manot Cave is an active karst cave with abundant speleothems, and, more to the point, evidence of multiple Middle and Upper Paleolithic occupations likely associated with both Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (abbreviated AMH). The cave is located in what is today Israel, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the similarly dated Neanderthal site of Qafzeh Cave and about the same northeast of the four Neanderthal sites at Mount Carmel, and about 220 meters (656 feet) above sea level.

The interior of the cave is an elongated main hall (80 m [262 ft] long, 10-25 m [30-80 ft] wide), and it has two lower chambers connected from the north and south.

A skull cap (calvaria) from a hominin skull was found in the side chamber extending eastward from the northeastern wall of the main cave, covered by a thin calcite crust. The chamber is 7.7x4 m (25x13 ft) in floor area and 1-2.5 m (4-8 ft) high. The skullcap was resting on a flowstone ledge, without loose sediment nearby, and is not associated directly with any stratified archaeological layers found elsewhere in the cave. The calcitic crust directly covering the calvaria was direct-dated by Uranium-Thorium methods to 54,700 +/- 5,500 years ago: researchers suggest that given the constant wetness of the cave today, the crust date likely approximates the true age of the skull. AMH is thought to have arrived in Europe ca. 45,000 years ago (bp).

Chronology

Excavations indicate the cave was intensively occupied during the Upper Paleolithic period, and, to a lesser extent, the Middle Paleolithic. Dates include both Accelerator Mass Spectrometer radiocarbon dates and Uranium-Thorium dates.

  • Ahmarian (46,000-42,000 bp): long, narrow blades with punctiform platforms, burins, endscrapers and el-Wad points
  • Terminal Middle Paleolithic/Initial Upper Paleolithic (60,200-49,200 bp): blade cores, endscrapers, Levallois-like blades, similar to Ksar Akil, Ucagizli Cave, Boker Tachit
  • Middle Paleolithic (Areas A, C, D): Levallois cores and flakes, some of which were found in the later assemblages

Features of Manot Cave

Features associated with the habitation of the cave include Area E, a thin living surface associated with the Upper Paleolithic component. Area E included charcoal remains, flint artifacts, animal bones and two combustion areas, one of which is a hearth with white calcified wood ash, surrounded by a layer of burnt clay. Artifacts in Area E included endscrapers, burins and "Dufour" bladelets.

Area C is primarily an Early Upper Paleolithic occupation, with a scatter of Middle Paleolithic tools. Flint tools include Aurignacian-like blades and blade tools, el-Wad points, and antler points. Area C also included perforated shells and red ochre. A recent study of the lithics from Area C (Weiner et al) suggests that 19 of 20 examined artifacts were heat-treated, a characteristic of AMH first definitively used about 70,000 years ago in South Africa.

The faunal record of the cave indicate the inhabitants were exploiting mountain gazelle and Mesopotamian fallow deer. See the Manot Cave project gallery page at Antiquity by Marder et al. for details and photographs of the artifacts and site features.

Calvaria at Manot Cave

A large intact portion of a human skull was recovered from Manot Cave, including of the uppermost part of the frontal bone, two nearly complete parietal bones and the occipital. The calvaria is relatively small and gracile, but is believed to be from an adult. Cranial capacity is estimated to be 1,100 milliliters, well within Anatomically Modern Human (AMH) ranges. Indeed, most aspects of the skull's form fall within the range of modern humans, although others, including a coronal keel and an occipital bun, do not.

Excavators Hershkovitz and colleagues argue that the skull cap contains a mosaic of 'archaic' and modern traits like other hominins found across sub-Saharan Africa and the Levant as recently as 35,000 years ago.

Given the date and formal aspects of the skull, Hershkovitz et al. argue that the Manot 1 individual likely was a member of a population that migrated out of Africa and established itself in the Levant during the late Middle Paleolithic or Middle-Upper Paleolithic interface. Thus, say the scholars, Manot 1 is either an early local Levantine Anatomically Modern Human, or it represents a hybrid between Neanderthals and early AMHs.

In either case, suggest the scholars, the residents of Manot Cave did live in close proximity to Neanderthals, and thus the Manot skullcap may have been one of the first descendants of AMH populations to have interbred with Neanderthals prior to the migration into Europe.

Archaeology

Manot was found by construction workers in the early 21st century and excavated by an international team led by Tel Aviv University between 2010-2014.

Sources

This article is a part of the About.com guide to the Upper Paleolithic, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Hershkovitz I, Marder O, Ayalon A, Bar-Matthews M, Yasur G, Boaretto E, Caracuta V, Alex B, Frumkin A, Goder-Goldberger M et al.

2015. Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans. Nature in press. doi: 10.1038/nature14134

Marder O, Alex B, Ayalon A, Bar-Matthews M, Bar-Oz G, Bar-Yosef Mayer DE, Berna F, Boaretto E, Caracuta V, Frumkin A et al. 2012. The Upper Palaeolithic of Manot Cave, Western Galilee, Israel: the 2011–12 excavations. Antiquity Project Gallery.

Weiner S, Brumfeld V, Marder O, and Barzilai O. 2015. Heating of flint debitage from Upper Palaeolithic contexts at Manot Cave, Israel: changes in atomic organization due to heating using infrared spectroscopy. Journal of Archaeological Science 54:45-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2014.11.02s wasahave come from