A Greek skull may belong to the oldest human found outside of Africa
A skull found in a cliffside cave on Greeces southern coast in 1978 represents the oldest Homo sapiens fossil outside Africa, scientists say.
That skull, from an individual who lived at least 210,000 years ago, was encased in rock that also held a Neandertal skull dating to at least 170,000 years ago, contends a team led by paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati of the University of Tübingen in Germany.
If these findings, reported online July 10 in Nature, hold up, the ancient Greek H. sapiens skull is more than 160,000 years older than the next oldest European H. sapiens fossils (SN Online: 11/2/11). Its also older than a proposed H. sapiens jaw found at Israels Misliya Cave that dates to between around 177,000 and 194,000 years ago (SN: 2/17/18, p. 6).
“Multiple Homo sapiens populations dispersed out of Africa starting much earlier, and reaching much farther into Europe, than previously thought,” Harvati said at a July 8 news conference. African H. sapiens originated roughly 300,000 years ago (SN: 7/8/17, p. 6).
A small group of humans may have reached whats now Greece more than 200,000 years ago, she suggested. Neandertals who settled in southeastern Europe not long after that may have replaced those first H. sapiens. Then humans arriving in Mediterranean Europe tens of thousands of years later would eventually have replaced resident Neandertals, who died out around 40,000 years ago (SN Online: 6/26/19).
But Harvatis group cant exclude the possibility that H. sapiens and Neandertals simultaneously inhabited southeastern Europe more than 200,000 years ago and sometimes interbred. A 2017 analysis of ancient and modern DNA concluded that humans likely mated with European Neandertals at that time.
The two skulls were held in a small section of wall that had washed into Greeces Apidima Cave from higher cliff sediment and then solidified roughly 150,000 years ago. Since one skull is older than the other, each must originally have been deposited in different sediment layers before ending up about 30 centimeters apart on the cave wall, the researchers say.
Two in one
To compare the sizes and shapes of two ancient Greek skulls, investigators superimposed a digital reconstruction of the face and partial braincase of a Neandertal (with its recovered pieces shown in different colors) over the back of a Homo sapiens braincase (shown in yellow). The results support the argument that the skulls do not come from the same species, the researchers say.
Earlier studies indicated that one Apidima skull, which retains the face and much of the braincase, was a Neandertal that lived at least 160,000 years ago. But fossilization and sediment pressures had distorted the skulls shape. Based on four 3-D digital reconstructions of the specimen, Harvatis team concluded that its heavy brow ridges, sloping face and other features resembled Neandertal skulls more than ancient and modern human skulls. An analysis of the decay rate of radioactive forms of uranium in skull bone fragments produced an age estimate of at least 170,000 years.
A second Apidima fossil, also dated using uranium analyses, consists of the back of a slightly distorted braincase. Its rounded shape in a digital reconstruction characterizes H. sapiens, not Neandertals, the researchers say. A bunlike bulge often protrudes from the back of Neandertals skulls.
But without any facial remains to confirm the species identity of the partial braRead More – Source