Fossilised skulls provide earliest known evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia

11 July, 2019, 12:38 | Author: Darnell Taylor

In the new findings, published in the journal Nature, an global team of researchers used state-of-the art computer modelling and uranium dating to re-examine the skull - one of two found fossilised and badly damaged in the Greek cave.

Prof Harvati said: "It's at least 210,000 years old - predating the previously reported oldest H. sapiens in Europe by more than 150,000 years".

Reconstructions of the Apidima 1 cranium revealed a high and rounded shape - a unique feature of modern humans which contrasts sharply with Neanderthals.

Warren Sharp, an expert on dating fossils at the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California, said the age of 210,000 years is "not well supported by the data".

"We did not suspect it before", said Katerina Harvati of Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in Germany, who led the new analysis of Apidima 1 and Apidima 2, so named after the cave in which they were discovered.

The latter showed Neanderthal-like features such as a thick, rounded brow ridge whereas the former displayed modern ones.

When the researchers removed the skulls from their surrounding rock using a chisel and hammer, tiny bone fragments became dislodged as well.

Two skulls that were discovered in Apidima, southern Greece in the 1970s, but weren't able to be properly identified, are now believed to be the oldest human remains in Europe.

The remains were dug up with a second skull estimated to be 170,000 years-old - with the same features as our primitive relatives.

But Mirjana Roksandic, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Winnipeg, said the skull will help scientists in their continuing quest to fit together the puzzle pieces of human evolution.

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Map shows locations of key early fossils of Homo sapiens, or modern humans, and related species in Africa and Eurasia.

Havarti thinks this part of Eurasia might have served as a refuge for animals and human populations during that period, since the mild coastal climate was a preferable alternative to other parts of Europe.

The discovery suggests Homo Sapiens migrated out of Africa on multiple occasions before conquering the world.

The oldest known African fossil attributed to a member of the Homo family is a 2.8 million-year-old jawbone from Ethiopia. The scientists conclude that in the epoch of the middle Pleistocene in present-day Greece, an early Population of Homo sapiens and, later, the Neanderthals lived. So the individual that left behind the Apidima 1 skull fragment seems to have been part of a population that couldn't successfully compete.

'Our results indicate it is an early modern human - about 210,000 years old.

The now accepted story is that modern humans arose about 300,000 years ago, but were mostly constrained to Africa until roughly 120,000 years ago.

The sensational discovery adds to evidence of an earlier migration of people from Africa that left no trace in the DNA of people alive today. The skull came from the oldest modern humans found outside of Africa. Then the species that eventually gave rise to Neanderthals moved into Europe between 600,000 and 800,000 years ago. In the late Palaeolithic, some 40,000 years ago, newly-arrived modern humans settled in the region, as in the rest of Europe. Over time, these ancestors replaced Neanderthal populations in those areas.

Instead, it was one of several exits from Africa that died out long before the exodus that took root. But those early migrants don't appear to have been successful. Without further evidence, it's hard to know what happened to them.

This supports the hypothesis that early modern humans spread out of Africa, where they evolved, multiple times, researchers say.

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