Scientists have found human bones and a tooth that rewrite the history of early humans’ arrival in Europe and time alongside Neanderthals.
The four Homo sapien bone pieces and a tooth from in a cave in Bulgaria were tested and found to be up to 46,000 years old.
The previous oldest European human bone fragments were found in Romania. Though it hasn’t been possible to accurately date these, experts believe them to be from around 40,000 years ago, give or take a few thousand years, said Helen Fewlass of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology* in Germany, a study lead author. The Romanian bone had Neanderthal genes in it, indicating that interbreeding had happened about 200 or so years earlier, she said.
Researchers said they think our species came from Africa about 47,000 years ago during a brief warming period.
It means that for about 7000 years or so, humans and Neanderthals lived on the same continent, interacting a bit, but probably not often, said institute director Jean-Jacques Hublin, another study lead author. Neanderthals went extinct about 40,000 years ago.
“We know that when they (humans) arrived, there were Neanderthals,” Hublin said. “The Danube Valley might have been a way for modern humans — by the way, at different periods — to move into this part of Europe.”
This early batch of our species probably never made it west over the European Alps, was likely only a few hundred people and may have died off, Hublin said. Modern Europeans descended from a second later wave of humans out of Africa, he said.
The fossils were found in Bulgaria’s Bacho Kiro cave, open to scientists and the public since 1930. The cave is on a steep cliff and contains animal bones, including from a rhinoceros and lions.
“How would they get into that cave on the side of that cliff unless humans brought parts of the animal, the body, into the cave?” Fewlass said.
There are also a large amount of bones from cave bears. These early Europeans made pendants* out of cave bear bones, not other animals, showing they had some sort of importance in the humans’ lives, Hublin said.
Hublin believes the discovery shows that Neanderthals, who until this time hadn’t shown jewellery making skills, learned making pendants from our species.
The study makes “a very convincing argument and greatly strengthens the hypothesis* that modern humans dispersed* into Europe before 45,000 years ago from Western Asia,” said Katerina Harvati, of the University of Tuebingen, Germany, who wasn’t part of the study.
Harvati agreed with Hublin that it is likely that Neanderthal jewellery found in Western Europe was something that species somehow learned from humans. Other experts said that they weren’t quite convinced on this idea.
The studies were published this week in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution.
- anthropology: the study of humans and societies
- pendants: piece of jewellery made to hang on a chain or string
- hypothesis: idea or statement that can be tested to find out if it is true
- dispersed: spread out
- How old are the bones and tooth?
- When did Neanderthals become extinct?
- Where is the cave? What is the landscape like?
- What was the jewellery made from?
- Does everyone agree Neanderthals learnt jewellery making from humans?
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1. Evolution of Humans Timeline
Using the information and dates from the Kids News article, construct a timeline detailing when and where the first Homo sapiens were thought to arrive alongside the Neanderthals.
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, History
“These early Europeans made pendants out of cave bear bones, not other animals, showing they had some sort of importance in the humans’ lives.” Work with a partner and write why the cave bears might have been of significance to the early humans.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, History, Critical and creative thinking
Aside from this, there is also this!
Brackets are a great literacy tool for adding aside comments, or comments that could be covered over and the sentence still makes sense. What’s inside the brackets is extra information.
They can be used for a variety of effects: to add more detail, to add humour, to connect with the reader etc.
“My little brother, (the funniest kid I know) got himself into big trouble today.”
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