SOCIAL SCIENCE, HUMAN EVOLUTION
European research uncovers clues to earliest Europeans
European researchers have unearthed pieces of a skull belonging
to one of the earliest Europeans known to exist. An archaeological
team co-chaired by Professor Joao Zilhao of the University
of Bristol discovered the cranial fragments in a cave in Romania,
which is known to contain specimens dating back to the beginning
of modern humans’ time in Europe. Researchers were surprised
to discover that the 40 000 year-old skull contains features
attributed both to modern humans and Neanderthals, suggesting
interbreeding between the two species. Their findings were
recently published in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences (US).
Professor Zilhao, accompanied by Professor Erik Trinkaus of
Washington University (US), led a team of European researchers
studying the population dynamics of modern humans, as they advanced
into Europe. The research team was exploring the Peçtera
cu Oase, or the Cave with Bones, in southwestern Romania, when
they came across the important find.
human remains were unearthed in a cave in the
Carpathian Mountains of Romania.
Radiocarbon dating places the skull fragments in the Late Pleistocene
era at least. The reconstructed skull, dubbed Oase 2, was compared
with another sample found in the cave; this sample is 40,500
years old. They determined that both samples were approximately
the same age, making them the earliest modern human remains
discovered in Europe.
The most scientifically intriguing aspect of the find is the
fact that the skull contains features not normally associated
with modern humans. Specifically, the exceptionally large upper
molars and frontal flattening are characteristics more reminiscent
“Such differences raise important questions about the
evolutionary history of modern humans. They could be the result
of evolutionary reversal or reflect incomplete palaeontological
sampling of Middle Paleolithic human diversity,” Professor
He clarified that "the ultimate resolution of these issues must await considerations of larger samples of European early modern humans and chronologically intervening specimens. But this fossil is a major addition to the growing body of fossil, genetic and archaeological evidence indicating significant levels of biological and cultural interaction between modern humans and the anatomically archaic populations (including the Neanderthals) they met along the way as they spread from Africa into Eurasia."
Careful analysis of the findings has led researchers to believe
that modern humans continued to evolve even after arriving in
Europe. Although confirmation of their hypothesis rests on the
discovery of additional specimens, the researchers are confident
that the find constitutes a ‘major addition’ to
the fossil, genetic and archaeological evidence of interaction
between modern and archaic humans in Europe.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article
sciences and humanities on Europa
Social sciences in FP7