Discovery Alters Notions About Early Humans' Travel

It appears they reached Europe earlier than thought, hung out with Neanderthals
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 11, 2020 12:02 PM CDT
Discovery Alters Notions About Early Humans' Travel
This image provided this month shows excavation work at the Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria. Two new studies show that Homo sapiens bones found in the Bulgarian cave date back to as far as 46,000 years ago, which is thousands of years earlier than previous human fossils in Europe.   (Tsenka Tsanova/MPI-EVA Leipzig via AP)

Human bones from a Bulgarian cave suggest our species arrived in Europe thousands of years earlier than previously thought and shared the continent longer than realized with Neanderthals, per the AP. Scientists found four bone fragments and a tooth that detailed radiocarbon and DNA tests show are from four Homo sapiens, the oldest of which is dated to about 46,000 years ago, according to two studies published Monday in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution. The previous oldest European human bone fragments were found in Romania, from around 40,000 years ago. The new fossils were found in Bulgaria's Bacho Kiro Cave, said Helen Fewlass of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. This early batch of our species probably never made it west over the Alps, was likely only a few hundred people, and may have died off.

Researchers said they think our species came from Africa during a brief warming period. Neanderthals went extinct about 40,000 years ago. The discovery suggests that for about 6,000 years, give or take, humans and Neanderthals lived on the same continent, interacting a bit, but probably not often, said Jean-Jacques Hublin, another study author from the institute. "We know that when they [humans] arrived, there were Neanderthals," he said. Researchers also found bones from cave bears at the site. These early Europeans made pendants out of cave bear bones, not other animals, showing an affinity for that animal, Hublin said. He theorized that the discovery indicates that Neanderthals, who until this time period hadn’t shown jewelry-making skills, learned making pendants from our species.

(Read more archaeology stories.)

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