Europe’s oldest Homo remains found in Spain

(ORDO NEWS) — In one of the caves in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, paleoanthropologists discovered the earliest traces of human presence in Europe – 200 thousand years older than previous finds.

Representatives of the archaeological fund “Atapuerca” said that in June 2022 in the cave of Sima del Elefante, a fragment of the jaw of Homo. According to the results of a preliminary study, its age was estimated at 1.4 million years.

Sima del Elefante is one of the many caves of the archaeological site of Atapuerca in the Spanish province of Burgos. In those places, people and their ancestors camped from the Lower Pleistocene (more than a million years ago) to the Holocene.

In Atapuerca, several thousand fragments of bones of different types of people were found: moreover, they are distributed in layers, the study of which helps to determine the age of the finds.

So far, the oldest hominin fossil found in Europe was a jawbone found at the same location in Sima del Elefante Cave in 2007.

It has been dated to be 1.2 million years old. The new find was made in a layer that is 2 meters lower – which caused the first assumptions about the age of the ancient Homo.

Europes oldest Homo remains found in Spain 2
Fragment of a jaw that may be 1.4 million years old

Now the researchers have to make a more accurate estimate of the age of the jawbone fragment using physical dating methods. These studies are carried out by specialists from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution in Burgos. The process will take six to eight months, they said.

Scientists hope that the analysis will help determine which species of hominin the jawbone fragment belongs to and better understand how humans evolved on the European continent. Indeed, until now, researchers have not been able to determine with certainty who owned the jawbone discovered in 2007.

They suggest that the fossil may correspond to Homo antecessor (human predecessor), whose bones were found in 1994 in one of the caves of Atapuerca.

The age of that find is a little less than a million years. If it is possible to reliably correlate all these bone remains with each other, then it will be possible to say that the human predecessor mastered Europe almost one and a half million years ago.

In addition, if the preliminary dating of the find is confirmed by other methods, then the question of the ways of migration of the genus Homo will arise. The shortest way from Africa to the north of modern Spain lies through Gibraltar. But paleoanthropologists often question the ability of ancient Homo to cross large water barriers.

Of course, they could also leave Africa along the traditional route – through the Middle East. But in order to get to Atapuerca after that, they would have to go through all of Europe, and then it becomes completely incomprehensible why we do not find such ancient traces to Spain – in Greece, Bulgaria, Italy.

Chronologically, the 1.4 million-year-old find may also belong to Homo erectus . It is believed that it was erectus about 0.8 million years ago that settled the island of Flores (now Indonesia), where, over time, the descendants of the “colonists” gave a new species, Homo floresiensis.

The island of Flores has always been separated from its neighbors by a sea strait, even more difficult to overcome than Gibraltar.


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