Fossils of ancient Balkan Neanderthals discovered in Serbia

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleoanthropologists examined fossils discovered during excavations at the Velika Balanica cave in southern Serbia and found that early Neanderthals lived in this region about 300,000 years ago.

According to scientists, the found teeth and a fragment of the upper jaw belonged to at least two individuals and represent the oldest evidence of the presence of Neanderthals in the Balkans. This is reported in an article published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The oldest anthropological evidence of people’s stay in Europe was discovered in Spain during the study of the complex of cave sites in Atapuerca. So, about 1.2–0.8 million years ago, in the south of Western Europe, there was a fossil species of a human predecessor (Homo antecessor).

With rare exceptions (for example, the skull cap of H. cepranensis discovered in the vicinity of Rome), all other finds of the remains of ancient people preceding the appearance of classical Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) and Cro-Magnons (H. sapiens), scientists refer to the Heidelberg man (H. heidelbergensis).

However, it is rather difficult to draw a clear line between this taxon and Neanderthals. Recent genetic studies have shown that the remains of people about 430 thousand years old, found in the Sima de los Huesos cave, can be considered Neanderthal.

The Balkans is an important region in terms of research into ancient human migrations. However, in this area, archaeologists have found only a small number of fossilized remains of Homo.

So, in 2019, paleoanthropologists reported that two fragmented skulls found in Greece back in 1978 may have belonged to people of a modern anatomical type who ended up in Europe about 210 thousand years ago.

There are also several sites where the remains of Neanderthals were found: the Bulgarian Kozarnika Cave, the Serbian Peshturina Cave and the Croatian Vindia Cave.

In addition, in the Balkans, during the excavations of the caves of Bacho Quiro and Peshtera co Oase, some of the oldest remains of Cro-Magnons were found, with the exception of a recently discovered tooth in France.

Fossils of ancient Balkan Neanderthals discovered in Serbia 2

In 2017, archaeologists discovered four hominin fossils at this site, which were located in a cultural layer with Mousterian tools in close proximity to each other. These remains are heavily worn molars (BH-2 and BH-3) and an incisor (BH-5), as well as a fragment of the right maxilla with one intact first molar (BH-4).

In the cultural layer, along with the bones, archaeologists found two burnt flint artifacts, which were examined by thermoluminescent analysis. It turned out that these findings date back to 285 ± 34 and 295 ± 74 thousand years ago, that is, they cover the period between marine isotope stages 10 and 7.

At the same time, the discovered accumulations of the remains of small mammals, according to scientists, allow us to attribute the finds to glaciation that began at the time marine isotope stage 8.

Paleoanthropologists examined the morphological characteristics of four teeth, performed microtomographic scans, and built three-dimensional models of them.

As a result of this work, they came to the conclusion that the fossils belonged to at least two individuals – one adult and one minor (his tooth was preserved in articulation with a fragment of the jaw).

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Scientists noted that due to severe wear, the teeth of an adult (or people) were poorly suited for species identification.

The crown size of BH-4 was found to be closest to some early Neanderthals, such as those from Atapuerca, as well as some Cro-Magnons, such as those from the Upper Paleolithic site of Pavlov. In general, the study of morphology and the discovery of developmental anomalies in two teeth (tuarodontism) allowed paleoanthropologists to conclude that the fossils belonged to Neanderthals.

They noted that the materials found at the Velika Balanitsa site demonstrate, on the one hand, the appearance of Neanderthals in the Balkans about 300 thousand years ago, and, on the other hand, the cultural influence from Southwest Asia, which manifests itself in the industry of stone tools, which is analogous to more no ancient European sites have been found.

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