'Oldest remains' outside Africa reset human migration clock

Mindy Sparks
July 13, 2019

But, to the surprise of scientists, the second skull, named Apidima 1, pre-dated Apidima 2 by up to 40,000 years, and was determined to be that of a Homo sapiens. "We could tell that it was a Neanderthal", says Greek researcher Katerina Harvati, director of paleoanthropology at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany. 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. The rounded back is just like a modern human's; Neanderthals have a bulge at the back of the skull that nearly resembles a hair bun. Apidima 2 does belong to a Neanderthal.

This would make it the oldest out-of-Africa human skull ever discovered. Harvati is among the authors of the study.

If the claim is verified - and many scientists want more proof - the finding will rewrite a key chapter of the human story, with the skull becoming the oldest known Homo sapiens fossil in Europe by more than 160,000 years. That's because it was rounded in a way that's unique to modern humans, Harvati said.

Evidence for such failed excursions outside of Africa by bands of humans have been discovered before, most notably in modern-day Israel.

A Griffith University researcher has played a key role in dating the fossil of an early human found in Greece as 210,000 years old.

Apidima 1 also lacked any features that were typical of Neanderthals or other archaic human species, she said.

Homo sapiens are thought to have arrived on the scene around 45,000 years ago, interbreeding with Neanderthals and eventually emerging as the dominant species.

In southern Africa, modern humans were alive at the same time as a much smaller and seemingly more primitive species called Homo naledi .

But the cave system where they were found allowed for the remains of humans and animals from different time periods to accumulate. Why both groups disappeared remains a mystery. The models were then compared with skulls from various ancient Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and modern humans.

The human skull was one of two cranial fossils found in Apidima Cave, one of a series of cave sites along the southwestern coast of the Peloponnese in Greece.

But not all experts are convinced. "I can not see anything suggesting that the individual belongs to the sapiens lineage", Juan Luis Arsuaga, a University of Madrid paleoanthropologist who was not involved in the study, told Maya Wei-Haas at National Geographic.

Within the outdated couple of years, palaeontologists bear came all over contemporary human fossils from Daoxian and Zhirendong in China relationship to between 80,000 and 120,000 years ago.

"I can not see anything suggesting that [Apidima 1] belongs to the sapiens lineage", he says.

Eric Delson, professor of anthropology at the City University of NY, has in a scientific commentary on the Apidima study in the same issue of Nature called for the use of genetic or palaeo-proteomics tools to assign dates to other contemporaneous fossils. They want to know the underlying cause for the early migrations, if there were technological advancements that allowed for those migrations and why some of the modern human populations didn't persist in the areas where they migrated.

"Rather than a single exit of hominins from Africa to populate Eurasia, there must have been several dispersals, some of which did not result in permanent occupations", said Delson, who was not involved in the Nature study.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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