'Oldest remains' outside Africa reset human migration clock 150000 years earlier

11 Juillet, 2019, 06:38 | Auteur: Therese Cote

And it adds more weight to the theory that modern humans migrated out of Africa multiple times, before Homo sapiens became the last human species standing.

When the researchers removed the skulls from their surrounding rock using a chisel and hammer, tiny bone fragments became dislodged as well. They named them Apidima 1 and 2, after the cave in which they were found, which overhangs the Aegean Sea and is accessible only by boat.

The researchers speculate that there could have been contact, or perhaps even conflict, between the Neanderthals and the Apidima people. The other, more complete skull belonged to a Neanderthal who lived 170,000 years ago.

However, a recent study from a multinational team led by Katerina Harvati reconstructed the specimens digitally and dated them by measuring their radioactive decay. Apidima 2 lived about 170,000 years ago, while Apidima 1 was dated to be 210,000 years old. Their presence is documented by finely-worked stone tools and other finds.

An global team - including Manchester University experts - created virtual reconstructions of each using state-of-the-art technology.

A team of researchers from Greece, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom has used modern dating and imaging techniques to figure out how they belonged to and how long they've been sitting there.

The latter showed Neanderthal-like features such as a thick, rounded brow ridge whereas the former displayed modern ones.

But Mirjana Roksandic, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Winnipeg, said the skull will help scientists in their continuing quest to fit together the puzzle pieces of human evolution.

Map shows locations of key early fossils of Homo sapiens, or modern humans, and related species in Africa and Eurasia.

Havarti thinks this part of Eurasia might have served as a refuge for animals and human populations during that period, since the mild coastal climate was a preferable alternative to other parts of Europe.

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Scientists do not know yet why the populations resulting from the early out-of-Africa dispersals, such as those to Israel or Greece, did not survive.

Eric Delson, an anthropologist with Lehman College who was unaffiliated with the study, said in an accompanying Nature article that these groups "reached the Middle East and southeastern Europe, but did not persist in these regions".

Study author Professor Katerina Harvati, of Tubingen University in Germany, said: "Our results indicate it is an early modern human - about 210,000 years old".

The incomplete nature of the Apidima 1 skull may leave some experts uncertain about its true origin, wrote Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist from City University of NY, in a commentary that accompanied the study. It is estimated to be between 100,000 and 250,000 years old.

"All humans alive today outside Africa can trace their ancestry" to that final, successful dispersal, Harvati said, but early migrants like Apidima 1 didn't contribute any genetic material to humans living today. Then the species that eventually gave rise to Neanderthals moved into Europe between 600,000 and 800,000 years ago.

That makes it by far the oldest modern human remains ever discovered on the continent, and older than any known Homo sapiens specimen outside of Africa.

They dispersed out of Africa and across the world, sweeping all before them from about 70,000 years ago, leading to the demise of Neanderthals in Europe around 40,000 years ago. Over time, these ancestors replaced Neanderthal populations in those areas.

Southeast Europe is considered to be one of those major migration corridors out of Africa. But those early migrants don't appear to have been successful.

The human skull, found in Apidima Cave on the southwestern coast of the Peloponnese was originally identified as Neanderthal and disappeared into the general table of fossils from humans and their closest extinct hominins relatives.

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