An unexpected discovery in a cave once again forced us to reconsider the version of the exit of people from Africa

(ORDO NEWS) — Last year, a genetic analysis of bone fragments representing our earliest known presence in Europe raised several questions about what steps modern humans have taken to conquer every corner of the modern world.

Whoever the remains belonged to, their family lineage was more closely related to the East Asian population of the time than to modern Europeans, hinting at a far more intricate migration of our species than previously thought.

Now researchers at the Universities of Padova and Bologna in Italy have come up with what they think is the simplest explanation for the unexpected kink in the family tree, based on what we can piece together from genetic connections and subtle shifts in ancient technology around the world.

If we trace our path from modern times through the Stone Age and beyond, we will inevitably find the moment when a group of Homo sapiens took the decisive step out of Africa into the land we today consider Eurasia.

Earlier, more distant relatives have repeatedly ventured this step, settling for a while and then dying out. This time everything will be different. This migration of modern humans dragged on and eventually led to a cultural revolution that changed our planet forever in just a few millennia.

While the outcome of this monumental journey is now clear, the paths traveled and countless lost branches can only be pieced together from the meager surviving artifacts and legacy of genetic mixing.

A scattering of human bones and stone tools sifted from the deposits of the Bacho Kiro cave in central Bulgaria is just what archaeologists dream of. Discovered in 2015, they have been dated to be around 45,000 years old, officially making them the oldest Upper Paleolithic hominin bones ever found in Europe.

Based on the archaeological record, we can say that they originated from a larger community during a 15,000 year gap in their travels to the east.

If we knew little else about them, we might conclude that this people represented a kind of stepping stone between the future in Asia and the past in Europe – the central node on the threshold of Africa, from which we expanded and settled further and further abroad.

However, the genetic data preserved in three of these bodies does not fit well with this simple scenario.

Last year, experts at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany concluded that these people “are more closely related to modern and ancient populations of East Asia and America than to later West Eurasian populations.”

The finding of closer kinship to modern and ancient Asian populations than to modern European humans raises some difficult questions as to how this ancient center of humanity could have branched east and west.

Moreover, a generous dose of Neanderthal blood has recently been added to their ancestry, further muddying the waters of how our ancestors might have moved and interacted.

According to the authors of this latest study, one possibility is that human migration was more of a hitch than a surge.

“Then, about 45,000 years ago, a new expansion emerged from the center and colonized a wide area from Europe to East Asia and Oceania and is associated with a method of making stone tools known as the initial Upper Paleolithic,” says molecular anthropologist Leonardo Vallini from the University of Padua.

An unexpected discovery in a cave once again forced us to reconsider the version of the exit of people from Africa 2

Those who ended up in Asia prospered, traces of their bloodlines are still preserved. But something happened in the west, something that brought the human experiment to a temporary halt in Europe.

A second study, conducted last year on the remains of women found in the Czech Republic, provides a clue. Although carbon dating has not yet confirmed her age of death, changes in her genes have hinted that she dates back even further than 45,000 years ago.

More importantly, Paleolithic woman’s ancestors were not closely related to either modern Europeans or Asians. Whatever happened to her and her relatives, their history was not long-lived.

“It’s interesting to note that the last Neanderthals died out around the same time,” says Giulia Marchiani, an archaeologist at the University of Bologna.

It would have taken a new wave of human emigration from this center some 7,000 years later to populate the west and give rise to lineages that would later lead to the rich array of cultures we see today.”

Where this temporary center of humanity can be located and what prompted its population to set off again and again – future archaeologists have to find out.

If we haven’t learned anything else, it’s clear that we shouldn’t make too many assumptions when it comes to the story of how modern humanity made its way around the world.


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