PARIS, July 11 – A 210,000-year-old skull has been identified as the oldest of modern human remains discovered outside of Africa, delaying the arrival of humanity to Europe by more than 150,000 years, announced researchers today.
In a surprising discovery that changes our understanding of how modern humans populated Eurasia, the findings support the idea that Homo sapiens has made several migrations from Africa, sometimes without success, for tens of thousands of years.
South-East Europe has long been considered a major transport corridor for modern humans in Africa. But until now, the first traces of Homo sapiens on the continent only dated back to about 50,000 years ago.
A number of discoveries have however been revealed, indicating the ancient presence of Neanderthals – an early human cousin – throughout the continent.
Two fossilized but severely damaged skulls, discovered in a Greek cave in the 1970s, were identified at the time as Neanderthal.
In the conclusions presented in the newspaper NatureAn international team of researchers used state – of – the – art computer modeling and uranium dating to re – examine both skulls.
One of them, named Apidima 2, after the cave in which they were found, stood at 170,000 years and actually belonged to a Neanderthal.
But, to the scientists' surprise, the skull named Apidima 1 was earlier than Apidima 2 nearly 40,000 years ago and was supposed to be that of a Homo sapiens.
This makes this skull by far the oldest of modern human remains ever discovered on the continent, and older than any specimen of Homo sapiens known outside of Africa.
"This shows that the early dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa has not only occurred earlier, 200,000 years ago, but has also spread geographically as far as it can go. in Europe, "said Katerina Harvati, a paleoanthropologist from the University Eberhard Karls of Tübingen, Germany, told AFP.
"It's something we had not suspected before and that has implications for the population movements of these old groups."
Apidima 1 lacked classic traits associated with Neanderthal skulls, including the distinctive bulge at the back of the head, shaped like a knot of hair.
The hominins – a subgroup of great apes including Homo sapiens and Neanderthal – would have emerged in Africa more than six million years ago. They left the mainland with several waves of migration beginning about two million years ago.
The oldest known African fossil attributed to a member of the Homo family is a jawbone of Ethiopia aged 2.8 million years old.
Homo sapiens has replaced Neanderthals across Europe for much of it from about 45,000 to 35,000 years ago, in what has long been viewed as a gradual takeover of the continent involving millennia coexistence and even miscegenation.
But the discovery of the skull in Greece suggests that Homo sapiens has embarked on migration from Africa to southern Europe to "more than one occasion," according to Eric Delson, a professor of science and technology. Anthropology at City University of New York.
"Rather than a single African homininos outing to populate Eurasia, there must have been several dispersions, some of which have not resulted in permanent occupations. "said Delson, who did not participate in the Nature study.
Harvati said that advances in dating and genetic technology could continue to influence our understanding of how our prehistoric ancestors have spread throughout the world.
"I think recent progress in paleoanthropology has shown that the field is still full of surprises," she said. – AFP