Humans may have reached Europe by 210,000 years ago

Humans may have reached Europe by 210,000 years ago

Enlarge / A view of the Apidima 1 skull from behind (left), above (center), and below (right). The scale bar represents 5 cm. (credit: Harvati et al. 2019)

A few fossilized bones from the back of a skull may prove that our species spread into Eurasia much earlier than previously suspected. A new study of the partial skull, which was excavated from Apidima Cave in southern Greece 40 years ago, suggests that the fossil is Homo sapiens and that it’s roughly 210,000 years old. That makes it the oldest member of our species ever found outside of Africa.

The fossil, known as Apidima 1, is likely the remains of a member of an early wave of humans who spread into Eurasia. Based on genetic studies and the fossil record, anthropologists think these early pioneers failed to gain a successful foothold and ended up being replaced by Neanderthals (for a while,

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Neanderthals’ history is as complicated as ours

Neanderthals’ history is as complicated as ours

Enlarge / The upper and lower jawbones of a juvenile Neanderthal girl who lived in Belgium around 127,000 years ago. (credit: Peyrégne et al. 2019)

DNA preserved in ancient bones and teeth has recently helped scientists reconstruct how groups of ancient humans migrated and mingled, and a new study now does the same thing for Neanderthals. Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for around 400,000 years, and it would be a huge stretch to assume they spent all that time as one big homogeneous population or that different groups of Neanderthals never migrated and mixed.

Thanks to ancient DNA, we can now begin to see how Neanderthal groups moved around Eurasia long before Homo sapiens entered the mix.

Neanderthals on the move

Evolutionary geneticist Stéphane Peyrégne and his colleagues recently sequenced DNA from two Neanderthals, both just over 120,000 years old. One set of DNA comes from the upper jaw of a

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Neanderthals glued their tools together

Neanderthals glued their tools together

Enlarge / Neanderthals lived in Grotta di Sant’Agostino between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago. (credit: Degano et al. 2019)

Neanderthals glued their stone tools into place on wooden handles, a new study suggests. Archaeologists found chemical traces of pine resin on 10 stone tools from Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino, on the western coast of central Italy. That’s pretty solid evidence that Neanderthals living in Italy were hafting their stone tools and securing them in place with resin between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago—long before Homo sapiens set foot in Europe.

Getting a grip on stone tools

For around three million years, hominins had been shaping various cutting, pounding, and scraping tools out of stone, but something was still missing. Imagine trying to skin and butcher a deer using a knife with no handle, and you’ve got life for most of hominin history. Hafting tools was a major

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