Greek find called earliest sign of our species out of Africa

The skull named Apidima 1 was discovered in a Greek cave and was determined to belong to a Homo Sapien

The skull named Apidima 1 was discovered in a Greek cave and was determined to belong to a Homo Sapien

Homo sapiens left Africa, according to a study, a lot more and 150,000 years earlier in Europe settled than previously thought. It was found along with another complete skull, Apidima 2, which was identified as belonging to a Neanderthal.

Nearly all human-origin specialists agree that modern humans evolved somewhere in Africa.

The researchers announced their findings in the British science journal Nature on Wednesday.

Researchers uncovered two significant fossils in Apidima Cave in Greece in the 1970s. The skulls were discovered in 1978, when the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens was conducting research.

'Our results indicate it is an early modern human - about 210,000 years old.

The two partial skulls were not near anything that offered archaeologists useful clues about their origin: no stone tools, no animal remains, nothing. Given the fragmentary nature of the skulls, they were hard to remove and clean, though that eventually happened in the 1990s.

Apidima 1 lacked classic features associated with Neanderthal skulls, including the distinctive bulge at the back of the head, shaped like hair tied in a bun. It had a thick, rounded brow ridge, and other minor characteristics of this related species.

"We compared them to other fossil skulls from all over Europe and Africa from the same, or similar, time period", said Harvati.

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.

Lead researcher Professor Katerina Harvati, from the University of Tubingen, added: "Our results suggest that at least two groups of people lived in the Middle Pleistocene in what is now southern Greece: an early population of Homo sapiens and, later, a group of Neanderthals".

As these modern humans expanded across Eurasia, they largely replaced other species they encountered, such as the Neanderthals and Denisovans. This narrative originally said that modern humans in the southern cape of Africa developed a suite of original ways of thinking and communicating approximately 80,000 years ago. But the Jebel Irhoud fossils display more primitive features than Apidima 1.

Until now, the earliest fossil evidence for modern humans outside Africa was from the Misliya cave in Israel, where scientists had found a jawbone dated between 194,000 and 177,000 years old.

The rock surrounding Apidima 1 was estimated to be about 210,000 years old, while the rock around Apidima 2 was only 170,000 years old. Previously, it had been assumed they would both be the same age, given that they were found in the same breccia and only the breccia was initially dated.

"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".

The group says the finding proves that modern humans left the African continent tens of thousands of years earlier than believed until now, and crossed paths with Neanderthals and other human species. Climactic events or competition from Neanderthals caused them to die off, leaving no genetic trace behind in the population.

The older of the two Apidima skulls does not match the features of the Neanderthals, another extinct human species that once roamed Eurasia, coexisting and possibly interbreeding with modern humans.

While only the back portion of the skull of Apidima 1 remained, it was enough for the researchers to make a positive identification.

They want to know the underlying cause for the early migrations, if there were technological advancements that allowed for those migrations and why some of the modern human populations didn't persist in the areas where they migrated.

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