The oldest known Homo sapiens outside Africa was Greek

Jul 11, 2019

EARLY HUMAN fossils are so rare that each new discovery may rewrite the textbooks. A chance find two years ago in Morocco, for example, pushed the origin of Homo sapiens back to at least 315,000 years ago, from a previous minimum of 260,000 years based on remains found in South Africa. Now, as they report in this week’s Nature, a group of palaeontologists have extended the known geographical range of early Homo sapiens from Africa to Europe.

Katerina Harvati of the University of Tübingen, in Germany, and her colleagues found the relevant skull fragment not in the ground, but in a museum in Athens. It was one of a pair of specimens dug up in the 1970s from Apidima, a cave in southern Greece. Both were recognised as being human fossils of some sort, but had not been dated or properly analysed. Dr Harvati and her team have now done so, using techniques unavailable to the original finders.

One fossil is a reasonably complete, though fragmented, skull. Radioisotope dating shows it is 170,000 years old. Computer reconstruction reveals it to be an example of Homo neanderthalensis, Neanderthal man, a species widespread in Europe until 40,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens took over. The other fossil, the back...

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