Scepticism raised over alleged discovery of Europe's oldest human fossil

Katie Ramirez
July 13, 2019

It also lacked classic Neanderthal features such as the distinctive occipital "chignon" - a bulge at the rear of the skull and shaped like a bun.

"Now our negate used to be that there used to be an early contemporary community in Greece by 210,000 years ago, maybe linked to similar populations within the Levant, alternatively it used to be attributable to this truth replaced by a Neanderthal inhabitants (represented by Apidima 2) by about 170,000 years ago", stated co-author Prof Chris Stringer, from London's Pure Historical previous Museum.

For the past 40-odd years, Apidima 1 and the other cranium, "Apidima 2", have been held at the University of Athen's Museum of Anthropology.

According to the University of Tübingen, Germany, from Wednesday, the researchers studied a human skull that had already been in the 1970s, in a Greek cave discovered.

Harvati and a team of colleagues analyzed the remains using cutting-edge techniques.

Professor Harvati said: 'Here we virtually reconstruct both crania, provide detailed comparative descriptions and analyses, and date them. And when the team dated the fossils by analyzing the radioactive decay of trace uranium in the specimens, they got another shock.

Top Image: A 210,000-year-old human skull found in Greece suggests our species left Africa much earlier than previously thought. "We could tell that it was a Neanderthal", Professor Harvati said.

This discovery may add a wrinkle to the commonly accepted timeline of modern humans' dispersal from Africa and arrival in Europe. If the findings are confirmed, Apidima 1, as it's been named, would be the oldest human fossil found anywhere outside of Africa. And the presence of Neanderthal DNA in our own genomes shows they also bred with our species.

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Evidence from German Neanderthals shows that mixing occurred between 219,000 and 460,000 years ago, although it's not clear if Homo sapiens was involved, or another early African group.

It means modern humans developed in multiple regions around the world with groups making their way out of Africa and spreading across parts of Europe and the Middle East. Given that no similarly old human fossils have been found in Europe, it is possible that Apidima 1 belonged to a population that could not compete with the continent's resident Neanderthals, paleoanthropologist Eric Delson writes in a Nature article about the new paper.

Apidima 1 and other recent discoveries, however, have led researchers to think that some modern Homo sapiens left Africa long before that larger exodus. Apidima 1 was determined to be a Homo sapiens specimen, characterized by the skull's rounded back.

But not all experts are convinced.

"The most likely scenario is that there were bone deposits elsewhere in the cave system and that some time around 150,000 years ago, these different deposits were washed down the solution pipe and ended up in the same solidified breccia".

"I can not see anything suggesting that [Apidima 1] belongs to the sapiens lineage", he says.

Professor Rainer Grün, Director of Griffith's Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE), was part of the global research team led by Prof Katerina Harvati from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

In response, Harvati said the back of the skull is very useful for differentiating H. sapiens from Neanderthals and other related species, and that several lines of evidence support the identification.

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