'Oldest remains' outside Africa reset human migration clock

Neanderthal skull and its reconstruction

Neanderthal skull and its reconstruction

The finding is the earliest evidence of modern humans in Eurasia, surpassing the 2018 announcement that part of an ancient Homo sapiens jawbone discovered in Israel was around 180,000 years old.

But this wasn't the first migration of modern humans (Homo sapiens) from Africa.

He expressed reservations, because the now re-imagined skull bones from Greece only in the fragments available. They named them Apidima 1 and 2, after the cave in which they were found, which overhangs the Aegean Sea and is accessible only by boat.

Apidima 2, was unmistakably Neanderthal in origin. "We hypothesize that, as in the Near East, the early modern human population represented by Apidima 1 was probably replaced by Neanderthals, whose presence in southern Greece is well documented, including by the Apidima 2 skull from the same site". The digital recreation of the whole of the Apidima 1 skull to what it would have looked like led to the reclassification of the skull as a modern human (homo sapien) dating back to 210,000 years ago. However, there were no other identifiable animal remains or stone tools that Harvati's team could use to double-check those dating estimates.

To determine the species of the skulls, the researchers took CT scans and used the images to generate a 3-D virtual reconstruction of each one.

An worldwide team of researchers used state-of-the art computer modelling and uranium dating to re-examine the two skulls.

Apidima 1 also lacked any features that were typical of Neanderthals or other archaic human species, she said.

Rauner Grün, another study author, said the skulls' isotopic signatures also revealed that the two individuals came from very different environments before they died.

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"It's a wonder of nature that you find the two together", he said. But until now the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens on the continent dated back only around 50,000 years. The scientists conclude that in the epoch of the middle Pleistocene in present-day Greece, an early Population of Homo sapiens and, later, the Neanderthals lived.

DNA studies have turned up signs of early interbreeding between African humans and Neanderthals.

The incomplete nature of the Apidima 1 skull may leave some experts uncertain about its true origin, wrote Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist from City University of NY, in a commentary that accompanied the study.

Fortunately this was less damaged even though it was around 40,000 years older - so mirroring its right and left sides yielded a good reconstruction.

"All humans alive today outside Africa can trace their ancestry" to that final, successful dispersal, Harvati said, but early migrants like Apidima 1 didn't contribute any genetic material to humans living today.

Dr Joannes-Boyau was part of the team that dated the oldest Homo sapiens remains ever found, 315,000-year-old fossils in Morocco announced in 2017. However, the most significant and sustained move into Asia, Europe and the rest of the world is thought to have started between 80,000 and 60,000 years ago. Over time, these ancestors replaced Neanderthal populations in those areas.

"We are seeing evidence of human dispersals that are not just limited to one major exodus out of Africa, as perhaps we have thought in the past, but multiple dispersals", said study leader Katerina Harvati, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tubingen in Germany. But those early migrants don't appear to have been successful.

The skull was found the cave in the 1970s, and initially identified as Neanderthal.

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