(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists from the University of Warsaw have studied animal bones as well as stone tools found in a cave in southern Poland more than 50 years ago.
Previously, it was believed that representatives of the genus Homo lived there about 40 thousand years ago. The new analysis strongly pushes back the date of the earliest occupation of the cave.
The journal Scientific Reports published the work of a group of scientists led by Małgorzata Kot from the University of Warsaw (Poland). Scientists examined finds from the Tunel Wielki cave in southern Poland, near Krakow.
This cave was first discovered more than half a century ago. The initial analysis showed that the most ancient traces of human presence in it are no more than 40 thousand years old.
The authors of the new work argue that these conclusions were erroneous. They took another look at the artifacts and bones from the various layers of earth in the cave.
Initially, paleontologists noticed that the remains of small mammals found in Tunel Wielki were definitely older than 40,000 years and could be up to half a million years old. Among small bones, mainly teeth, the remains of ancient relatives of modern rodents predominated.
But the remains of larger animals have also been found. Among them, paleontologists have recognized, for example, the Mosbach wolf ( Canis mosbachensis ), Lycaon, a representative of the canine family ( Lycaon lycaonoides ), as well as the ancestor of the cave bear and two feline species, the cave lion and the European jaguar. All of them lived in Central Europe 450-550 thousand years ago.
In the same layer where these animal remains were located, archaeologists discovered 40 flint artifacts during the first excavations.
These are mainly waste (chips) from the manufacture of tools, as well as some end products: scrapers and small flint knives.
Repeated excavations carried out in the cave in 2018 confirmed the arrangement of the layers described by the first explorers.
In addition, archaeologists have found waste products and animal bones. The paper says that new dating became possible thanks to the development of technical methods that simply did not exist 50 years ago.
The bones of large animals have no traces of cutting or processing. Rather, according to scientists, people of that time hunted other, less dangerous species.
The dated layers of the earth accumulated over several tens of thousands of years. Therefore, predators did not necessarily encounter humans, who probably lived in the cave only temporarily.
The authors of the work believe that the tools were made by Homo heidelbergensis . Such finds in Central Europe are extremely rare, and all of them have so far been made in open sites, and not in caves.
“We were surprised to find that half a million years ago people in the area used to stay in caves, as these were not the best places to camp. Humidity and low temperatures prevented this.
On the other hand, the cave is a natural refuge. This is a closed space that gives a sense of security. We found traces that may indicate that the person who lived here used fire, ”the study says.
According to the authors of the work, the finds from the Tunel-Velki cave are one of the few evidences of the first Homo who dared to go north from the Carpathian Mountains.
“It is unlikely that they wandered further north. Most likely, we are at the northern limit of their ability to survive, ”the scientists noted.
In the future, they hope to find bones of Homo heidelbergensis in Tunel Wielki . With any luck, these will be the oldest human remains discovered on Polish soil.
Of those that are known today, the most ancient belong to the Neanderthal and are at least 50 thousand years old.
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