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The upper left jaw of an ancient, human fossil found in Israel. Photo: Israel Hershkovitz / Tel Aviv University

A ridge of teeth discovered in a cave in Israel are between 177,000-194,000 years old, according to a paper published today in Science. The teeth appear to be human, and if they are, would be the oldest anatomically modern human fossil found outside of Africa and the oldest fossil with modern human traits found to date.

What it means: Fossils like these, and new gene sequencing tools, are starting to answer questions about when modern humans left Africa, and when, exactly, they became human. The find in Israel suggests modern humans may have left Africa earlier than previously thought. And, they didn’t just find a jaw — they unearthed sophisticated stone tools, too.

The mystery: Recent genetic studies have suggested modern humans came out of Africa roughly 220,000 years ago, but the oldest bones found to date were the 120,000 year old Skuhl and Qafzeh specimens found in Israel. These specimens are hominins, or apes from after the human-chimpanzee split (like Lucy).

Because these hominins had a mixture of modern human and archaic traits, there was debate about whether this meant ancient humans looked strange or if these skulls were the result of more modern-looking humans interbreeding with local populations of Neanderthals or similar hominins.

What they found: “Their analysis shows that morphometrically, the teeth and maxilla align most strongly with Homo sapiens and appear not to show features that are uniquely found in Neanderthals,” Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg, a paleoanthropologist at Ohio State University who was not in the study, tells Axios. This find helps reconcile the later fossil finds with the genetic date.

Additionally, study author Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University, tells Axios, “It suggests that Skhul and Qafzeh hominins are not the earliest modern humans to leave Africa (as most people thought), but rather a development of local population through the interaction between modern humans (coming out of Africa) and the local populations of the region.”

Side note: Tools were found in the same cave as the skulls. Critically, some of the tools are even older. Because the old tools were created with a similar technique to the new ones, “it seems like a reasonable assumption to argue that the whole suite of assemblies had been formed by the same humans that arrived in the region some 250,000 ago,” study author Mina Weinstein-Evron of the University of Haifa said in an email.

Go deeper

Resurrecting Martin Luther King's office

King points to Selma, Alabama on a map at his Southern Christian Leadership Conference office in Atlanta in January 1965. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Contributor

Efforts to save the office where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., planned some of the most important moments of the civil rights movement are hitting roadblocks amid a political stalemate.

Why it matters: The U.S. Park Service needs to OK agreements so a developer restoring the historic Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Atlanta — which once housed King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference — can tap into private funding and begin work.

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.