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Home / Science / The enigmatic skull suggests that our human species reached Europe 210,000 years ago

The enigmatic skull suggests that our human species reached Europe 210,000 years ago




The Apidima 1 partial skull (right) and its reconstruction from the rear view (middle) and side view (left). The rounded shape of the skull is different from Neanderthals and their ancestors. (Copyright Katerina Harvati, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen)

A skull fragment found in Greece has elicited a startling hypothesis of when our species first arrived in Europe and of experts studying how and when Homo Instantly excitement and skepticism evoked sapiens scattered from Africa.

Researchers say the fossilized skull, found in a cave in southeastern Greece in the late 1970s and since then kept in a museum, belonged to a person with anatomically modern features who lived about 210,000 years ago. If true, this would be the earliest example of homo sapiens ever discovered outside the African continent. The date is also preceded by the proud 160,000-year-old age of a previously found in Europe Homo sapiens fossil.

The bold statement published in the journal Nature by a respected research team, but met with caution by a number of other paleoanthropologists who were not involved in the research. Disagreement is not uncommon in this area, where hypotheses and assumptions about the human history can emerge from a single jawbone or even a finger. Fossils are rare, difficult to date and usually fragmentary, and human history is by nature a foggy narrative.

The new study focuses on the damaged remains of two skulls – Apidima 1 and Apidima 2 – found only a few centimeters apart in a cleft. Initially, scientists assumed that the skulls are the same age because they were found together. Recently, the researchers used laboratory techniques that examined the radioactive decay of uranium traces in the samples and concluded that the individuals came from different eras. The investigations showed that Apidima 1 is about 210,000 years old and Apidima 2 is about 170,000 years old.

These data contained a shocking turn to the consensus on early humans in Europe. The researchers used a variety of methods to model what the skulls would have looked like before they had been shattered and distorted over thousands of centuries. Apidima 2, the younger skull, clearly looks like a Neanderthal, which fits in well with the understanding that the Neanderthals – Homo neanderthalensis – were the predominant early humans in Europe at this time of prehistory.

Apidima 1 does not seem to belong to a Neanderthal, the scientists found. It looks rather like an early Homo sapiens they report.

This skull does not have much to offer – just part of the back of the skull. But it has a rounded shape and other features that researchers compare to early modern humans.

Such an early presence of early modern humans in Europe is not implausible. Last year, another research team reported that a homo sapiens jaw and teeth of an individual were discovered in a cave in Israel that lived about 177,000 to 194,000 years ago. The new study assumes that the Levant and Turkey could have been migration routes for the early modern people to southeastern Europe.

If this new interpretation is correct, Apidima 1 is the "earliest known presence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia, indicating that early modern humans spread out of Africa much earlier and went much further as previously assumed.

This discovery also suggests that early modern humans had contact with Neanderthals. , which died out about 40,000 years ago after a group of modern humans (often referred to as Cro-Magnons) came into force in Western Eurasia.

Such an extraordinary claim involves inherent challenges. Essentially, it is a single data point: a damaged and distorted partial skull with a "lack of archaeological context" as stated in the new publication. There is nothing else: no stone tools, no funeral signs, nothing that points to modern human behavior. The claim would obviously benefit from a second Homo sapiens fossil-like age anywhere in this part of the world.

"Of course it would be nice to find more," said lead author Katerina Harvati of Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen Germany, in a teleconference with reporters. "We want to try to look it up."

Several paleontologists reading the newspaper expressed skepticism. Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, said the new claim was a "one-of-a-kind" date significantly different from what was previously documented. But that does not mean it's wrong.

"Of course, there must be a time when you can find the first one, but we do not know it yet, until we find several examples of it."

Melanie Lee Chang, an evolutionary biologist at Portland State University Human evolution has reiterated this feeling: "At the moment, it is an outlier, and there may be a whole series of cabinets in cabinets that people have not seen for some time and then go back and so new But I'm not ready to sign all of their conclusions here. "

John Hawks, paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, said genetic evidence had shown that Neanderthals had genes of African ancestors 200,000 years ago, and therefore" one Finding skulls that are so old that they obviously have African modern human features makes sense. "

But he g also a warning notice. Strange, he said, two skulls of different ages were found right next to each other. The researchers believed that the fossils were flushed into a crack and then embedded in sediments that hardened about 150,000 years ago. Hawks said, "This is a strange scenario when two human skulls are so different in age that I want to have more evidence."


The skull Apidima 2 (right) and its reconstruction (left). Apidima 2 has properties that are characteristic of Neanderthals. (Copyright Katerina Harvati, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen.)

A co-author of the Nature Paper, Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London, acknowledged that this is a "challenging new find" for which skepticism is warranted. "We have no frontal, frown, face, tooth or chin region, each of which could have been less 'modern'," he said in an e-mail. But he said the team has tested their reconstruction efforts in a variety of ways, and the fossil "certainly shows the high and rounded scale of the skull, typical only for H. sapiens .

He said it would be helpful to find stone tools related to Homo sapiens. "If we have correctly interpreted the Apidima evidence, the work of this early H. Sapiens must be present elsewhere in the European record.

All humans living today seem to have descended from an ancestor group in Africa who lived about 70,000 years ago. "Both the fossil and genomic evidence of today's human beings suggests that the continued success of Homo sapiens beyond the African continent may be as much as 70,000 years old," said Potts.

But the finer details of human prehistory, including the fate of groups that were scattered but apparently extinct, became more complicated with each new discovery. There was not a single linear evolution of man – as half a century ago it was supposed to be among paleoanthropologists – but many hominid species that existed side by side for millions of years before one species replaced all others.

"We are the last two-legged stall of a very, very different evolutionary tree," said Potts.

Read More:

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The 12,000-year-old skeleton of a girl can solve an archaeological puzzle

From 2018: Scientists report that they have oldest homo sapiens fossil found outside of Africa


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