An archaeological find in Israel could change everything we thought we knew about the origins of man.
A team from Tel Aviv University excavating a cave in central Israel found teeth that it said are about 400,000 years old and resemble other remains of modern man. Up until now, it was believed modern man first appeared on earth 200,000 years ago.
"It's very exciting to come to this conclusion," said archaeologist Avi Gopher, whose team examined the teeth with X-rays and CT scans and dated them according to the layers of earth where they were found.
Gopher said much more research is needed to prove the claim. But if it turns out to be true, "this changes the whole picture of evolution," he said.
The accepted scientific theory is that man originated in Africa and migrated out of the continent. Gopher said this could mean that modern man in fact originated in what is now Israel.
Experts, though, are skeptical. "Based on the evidence they've cited, it's a very tenuous and frankly rather remote possibility," said Sir Paul Mellars, a prehistory expert at Cambridge University. He said the remains are more likely related to modern man's ancient relatives, the Neanderthals.
Mellars added that teeth are often unreliable indicators of origin, and analyses of skull remains would more definitively identify the species found in the Israeli cave.
Gopher said he is confident his team will find skulls and bones as they continue their dig. The cave was discovered in 2000 and excavation began in 2004.
According to today's accepted scientific theories, modern humans and Neanderthals stemmed from a common ancestor who lived in Africa about 700,000 years ago. One group of descendants migrated to Europe and developed into Neanderthals, later becoming extinct. Another group stayed in Africa and evolved into Homo sapiens -- modern humans.