We will have to wait until tomorrow to see exactly what they compared it against. The abstract contrasts it with "other early AMH" from the Levant, which I presume means the Skhul/Qafzeh specimens of ~50ka earlier than Manot. But, they also say that it is similar to UP Europeans and recent Africans, which suggests that they did not find any particular similarities to old African skulls of which there are many.
UPDATE: The paper is now online
UPDATE I: The authors write:
Manot 1 could also have been a direct descendant of early AMH populations (such as Skhul/Qafzeh), but the differences in morphology between Manot 1 and the majority of fossils from these sites render this possibility unlikely (Supplementary InformationC).However, it should be noted that within- and between-group morphological variations in these populations are extremely large18, rendering any conclusion based exclusively on morphology as tentative. Nevertheless, the absence of
otherAMHspecimens in the Levant between the Skhul/Qafzeh material (,120–90 kyr ago) and the later appearing Manot 1 (,55 kyr ago) does not support the hypothesis of continuous representation and local evolution of AMHs in the Levant.
On the other hand, the considerably fluctuating climatic conditions during MIS 5 and 4 (favouring an alteration of differently adapted populations), the unequivocal presence of Neanderthals in the region in the time gap between early AMHs and the Manot population, and the continuing evolution of AMHs in Africa19 advocate for the most parsimonious explanation, which is that theManot people re-colonized the Levant from Africa, rather than evolved in situ.I don't buy this explanation. The key phrase is "the majority of fossils". In Figure 3 is it is clear that Qafzeh 9 is completely modern. Moreover, UP Europeans like Cro-Magnon 3, Mladec 6/5 are close to AMH Levantine specimens such as Skhul-5 and Qafzeh-6. Indeed, the late Neandertals such as Shanidar and Amud are already moving towards "modern" humans.
African samples like Omo-2, LH18, and and Jebel Irhoud 1/2 don't look anything like modern humans. It is quite strange that the authors interpret this evidence as discontinuity between ~100ka humans from the Levant and replacement by a fresh Out-of-Africa wave, when in fact all the Qafzeh/Skhul remains (and a couple of Neandertals) look much more plausible relatives of Manot than any of the ancient African samples. Not single sample has been found in Africa from the mysterious hypothetical ancestral population of modern humans that supposedly colonized Eurasia ~60ka. As far as I can tell, this theory has nothing to support it, except, perhaps, (i) some misinterpretation of old genetic data based on the now discredited "fast" mutation rate, and (ii) the belief that behavioral modernity first arose in Africa and coincided with the spread of modern humans from that continent into Eurasia.
Nature advance online publication 28 January 2015. doi:10.1038/nature14134
Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans
Authors: Israel Hershkovitz, Ofer Marder, Avner Ayalon, Miryam Bar-Matthews, Gal Yasur, Elisabetta Boaretto, Valentina Caracuta, Bridget Alex, Amos Frumkin, Mae Goder-Goldberger, Philipp Gunz, Ralph L. Holloway, Bruce Latimer, Ron Lavi, Alan Matthews, Viviane Slon, Daniella Bar-Yosef Mayer, Francesco Berna, Guy Bar-Oz, Reuven Yeshurun, Hila May, Mark G. Hans, Gerhard W. Weber & Omry Barzilai
A key event in human evolution is the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia between 60 and 40 thousand years (kyr) before present (bp), replacing all other forms of hominins. Owing to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations remain largely enigmatic. Here we describe a partial calvaria, recently discovered at Manot Cave (Western Galilee, Israel) and dated to 54.7 ± 5.5 kyr bp (arithmetic mean ± 2 standard deviations) by uranium–thorium dating, that sheds light on this crucial event. The overall shape and discrete morphological features of the Manot 1 calvaria demonstrate that this partial skull is unequivocally modern. It is similar in shape to recent African skulls as well as to European skulls from the Upper Palaeolithic period, but different from most other early anatomically modern humans in the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans who later successfully colonized Europe. Thus, the anatomical features used to support the ‘assimilation model’ in Europe might not have been inherited from European Neanderthals, but rather from earlier Levantine populations. Moreover, at present, Manot 1 is the only modern human specimen to provide evidence that during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic interface, both modern humans and Neanderthals contemporaneously inhabited the southern Levant, close in time to the likely interbreeding event with Neanderthals.