The first Neanderthal remains from an open-air Middle Palaeolithic site in the Levant

Ella Been, Erella Hovers, Ravid Ekshtain, Ariel Malinski-Buller, Nuha Agha, Alon Barash, Daniella E. Bar-Yosef Mayer, Stefano Benazzi, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Lihi Levin, Noam Greenbaum, Netta Mitki, Gregorio Oxilia, Naomi Porat, Joel Roskin, Michalle Soudack, Reuven Yeshurun, Ruth Shahack-Gross, Nadav Nir, Mareike C. Stahlschmidt, Yoel Rak & Omry Barzilai

The late Middle Palaeolithic (MP) settlement patterns in the Levant included the repeated use of caves and open landscape sites. The fossil record shows that two types of hominins occupied the region during this period—Neandertals and Homo sapiens. Until recently, diagnostic fossil remains were found only at cave sites. Because the two populations in this region left similar material cultural remains, it was impossible to attribute any open-air site to either species. In this study, we present newly discovered fossil remains from intact archaeological layers of the open-air site ‘Ein Qashish, in northern Israel. The hominin remains represent three individuals: EQH1, a nondiagnostic skull fragment; EQH2, an upper right third molar (RM3); and EQH3, lower limb bones of a young Neandertal male. EQH2 and EQH3 constitute the first diagnostic anatomical remains of Neandertals at an open-air site in the Levant. The optically stimulated luminescence ages suggest that Neandertals repeatedly visited ‘Ein Qashish between 70 and 60 ka. The discovery of Neandertals at open-air sites during the late MP reinforces the view that Neandertals were a resilient population in the Levant shortly before Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens populated the region.