Skull places hu­mans in Europe much ear­lier

Fos­sil dis­cov­ery pre­dates ear­li­est ev­i­dence of Homo sapi­ens on the Con­ti­nent by more than 160,000 years

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page -

New re­search on an an­cient skull found in a cave in Greece sug­gests our hu­man an­ces­tors left Africa 150,000 years ear­lier than pre­vi­ously thought. The skull be­longed to a mem­ber of an early pop­u­la­tion of Homo sapi­ens and is about 210,000 years old – mak­ing it the old­est ex­am­ple of mod­ern hu­man re­mains ever dis­cov­ered in Europe. Found in the Sev­en­ties, it was ini­tially iden­ti­fied as Ne­an­derthal be­fore new tech­niques al­lowed for fur­ther anal­y­sis.

AN AN­CIENT skull found in a cave in Greece sug­gests our hu­man an­ces­tors left Africa 150,000 years ear­lier than pre­vi­ously thought.

It be­longed to a mem­ber of an early pop­u­la­tion of Homo sapi­ens and is about 210,000 years old – mak­ing it the old­est ex­am­ple of mod­ern hu­man re­mains ever dis­cov­ered in Europe.

The skull was found in the cave in the Sev­en­ties and was ini­tially iden­ti­fied as Ne­an­derthal.

But new tech­niques have al­lowed for fur­ther anal­y­sis and it pre­dates the ear­li­est ev­i­dence of Homo sapi­ens in Europe by more than 160,000 years.

“It shows that the early dis­per­sal of Homo sapi­ens out of Africa not only oc­curred ear­lier – be­fore 200,000 years ago – but also reached fur­ther ge­o­graph­i­cally, all the way to Europe,” said Ka­te­rina Har­vati, a palaeoan­thro­pol­o­gist at the Eber­hard Karls Univer­sity of Tue­bin­gen, in Ger­many.

“This is some­thing that we did not sus­pect be­fore, and which has im­pli­ca­tions for the pop­u­la­tion move­ments of these an­cient groups.”

The find­ings sup­port the idea that Homo sapi­ens made sev­eral, some­times un­suc­cess­ful, mi­gra­tions from Africa over tens of thou­sands of years.

An in­ter­na­tional team of re­searchers used com­puter modelling tech­nol­ogy and ura­nium dat­ing to re-ex­am­ine the skull – one of two found fos­silised and badly dam­aged in the Greek cave. One of them, named Apidima 2 proved to be 170,000 years old and did in­deed be­long to a Ne­an­derthal.

But, to the sur­prise of sci­en­tists, the se­cond skull, named Apidima 1, pre­dated Apidima 2 by up to 40,000 years, and was de­ter­mined to be that of a Homo sapi­ens, the jour­nal Na­ture re­ported.

Ho­minids – a sub­set of great apes that in­cludes Homo sapi­ens and Ne­an­derthals – are be­lieved to have emerged in Africa more than six mil­lion years ago. They left the con­ti­nent in sev­eral mi­gra­tion waves start­ing about two mil­lion years ago.

The old­est known African fos­sil at­trib­uted to a mem­ber of the Homo fam­ily is a 2.8 mil­lion-year-old jaw­bone from Ethiopia.

Homo sapi­ens re­placed Ne­an­derthals across Europe up to 45,000 years ago in what was long con­sid­ered a grad­ual takeover of the con­ti­nent in­volv­ing co­ex­is­tence and in­ter­breed­ing.

But the skull dis­cov­ery in Greece sug­gests that Homo sapi­ens un­der­took the mi­gra­tion from Africa to southern Europe on “more than one oc­ca­sion”, ac­cord­ing to Eric Del­son, a pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at City Univer­sity of New York. “Rather than a sin­gle exit of ho­minids from Africa to pop­u­late Eura­sia, there must have been sev­eral dis­per­sals, some of which did not re­sult in per­ma­nent oc­cu­pa­tions,” he said.

Ms Har­vati said ad­vances in dat­ing and ge­net­ics tech­nol­ogy could con­tinue to shape our un­der­stand­ing of how our pre­his­toric an­ces­tors spread through­out the world.

“I think re­cent ad­vances in palaeoan­thro­pol­ogy have shown that the field is still full of sur­prises,” she said.

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