A partial skull discovered in Greece is the first evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens outside Africa, scientists said in this week's International Journal of Science. Nature.
The team of researchers dated the skull about 210,000 years ago, which gives it about 150,000 years older than the oldest fossil of Homo sapiens found in Europe and the third-oldest example known to modern humanity.
A second skull discovered at the same spot would be at least 170,000 years old and belong to the Neanderthals, a species prevalent in Europe up to 40,000 years ago. Homo sapiens resumed.
The two skulls (named Apidima 1 and 2) were found together in the late 1970s in the Apidima cave, located in the Peloponnese, in southern Greece.
The first attempts at aging the skulls were unsuccessful in part because the skulls were found stuck high in the cave walls and may have been mixed by a stream of mud.
Greek researcher Katerina Harvati, director of paleoanthropology at Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany, and her colleagues discovered relevant skull fragments in a museum in Athens.
Both have been recognized as human fossils of some kind, but have not been dated or properly analyzed. Dr. Harvati and his team have now done, using a computer reconstruction, a technique inaccessible to the original researchers.
The research team eventually created virtual reconstructions of parts of the skull and used a radiometric dating method – a method that analyzes the decay of uranium to determine age.
The challenge for scientists now is to understand how Apidima 1 fits into our ancient history.
Over the past two decades, researchers have gathered much evidence indicating that the human populations living outside of Africa today are all from small groups of migrants who have left the continent ago. about 70,000 years old.
Archaeologists have documented it by tracking the spread of human DNA from remnants and tools in Africa.
Mr Harvati said that Apidima 1 was reporting a rapid expansion of Homo sapiens in Europe from Africa.
This wave of humans may have flourished outside of Africa because they brought better tools. "If there is an overall explanation, I guess it would be a cultural process," said Dr. Harvati.
Greece can be a good place to test this idea. South-East Europe may have served as a corridor for various types of human beings traveling to Europe, as well as a refuge when glaciers of the ice age covered the rest of the continent.
"It's a hypothesis that should be verified with data in the field," said Dr. Harvati. "And it's a really interesting place to watch."
Mr. Harvati added, "This discovery underscores the importance of Southeast Europe for human evolution.