Oldest Homo sapiens outside Africa found in Greece

Pablo Tucker
July 12, 2019

The report has been met with skepticism by some experts, but if its conclusions are correct, Apidima 1 represents the oldest Homo sapiens fossil in Europe by some 160,000 years.

An worldwide team - including Manchester University experts - created virtual reconstructions of each using state-of-the-art technology. The analysis of the decay rate of radioactive forms of uranium in the skull bone fragments, suggested that the age of the Neanderthal skull is about 1,70,000 years old.

Eric Delson of Lehman College in NY, who did not participate in the study, said the discovery was somewhat surprising but that southeastern Europe "makes a lot of sense" for a finding that old.

Nearly all human-origin specialists agree that modern humans evolved somewhere in Africa. It is also older than the proposed H. sapiens jaw found in Misliya Cave in Israel, which dates to 1,77,000 to 1,94,000 years ago.

German scientists have learned that a fossil from a cave in Greece is the oldest remains of modern humans ever found outside Africa. Apidima 2 does belong to a Neanderthal. But until now the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens on the continent dated back only around 50,000 years. The rounded shape of the Apidima 1 cranium is a unique feature of modern humans and contrasts sharply with Neanderthals and their ancestors.

"But the earlier ones did not leave any genetic contribution to modern humans living today".

Harvati said finding evidence that our species had reached Greece by that time was initially a surprise, though in hindsight "it's not that hard to imagine that it would have happened". But the other one yielded a massive surprise: not only was it 40,000 years older than the other one, but it belonged to a Homo sapiens - not a Neanderthal. The skull fragments, Apidimia 1 (rear) and Apidima 2 (compelte skull with clear face), had been distorted by the fossilisation process but the new "geometric-morphometric" analysis confirmed that Apidima 2 was an early Neanderthal from around 150,000 years ago.

This discovery may add a wrinkle to the commonly accepted timeline of modern humans' dispersal from Africa and arrival in Europe.

As these contemporary people expanded all over Eurasia, they largely replaced a bunch of species they encountered, similar to the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

But Apidima 1 did not get its due until the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Athens invited Harvati to use her expertise in imaging and 3-D virtual reconstruction to bring both of the skulls to life. According to Delson, palaeoproteomics, or the analysis of ancient proteins preserved in fossils, might be the next best option; this technique was recently used to identify a fossil from a Siberian cave as belonging to a Denisovan.

But the authors of the new study contend that their findings "support multiple dispersals of early modern humans out of Africa".

The breccia was dated to between 100,000 and 190,000 years old at the time.

Recent studies of early human remains have been found in the far reaches of Asia dating back further than 60,000 years. They found that one of them, dating from 170,000 years ago is indeed Neanderthal.

Human evolution is often thought of as a linear story of new species developing and replacing older, simpler ones.

It means modern humans developed in multiple regions around the world with groups making their way out of Africa and spreading across parts of Europe and the Middle East.

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