History of Europe

Amazing discovery... The oldest Homo Sapiens specimen is Greek!

A skull found in Greece and dating back to at least 210,000 years ago, represents the oldest specimen of an anatomically modern human in Eurasia, i.e. outside of Africa, as announced by a group of Greek and foreign scientists. This means that - if the scientists are right - the skull is at least 150,000 years older than the oldest "Homo sapiens" fossil found so far in Europe.

A second skull found at the same Peloponnese site, estimated to be at least 170,000 years old, has Neanderthal features. The two fossilized skulls were discovered in the Apidima cave west of Aeropolis in Mani at the end of the 1970s, during investigations of the Anthropological Museum of the Medical School of the University of Athens. However, until now they had not been studied in depth and had remained relatively unknown, despite their great importance, as is now realized with great delay.

The researchers from Germany, Greece and Britain, led by the distinguished Greek paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati of the Schenkenberg Center for Human Evolution and the Paleoenvironment of the German Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, who made the relevant publication in the journal "Nature", studied for the first time, with modern imaging and dating methods, the two skulls, known as "Apidima 1" and "Apidima 2", are compared.

As Mrs. Harvati stated to APE-MBE, "the results of our research show the importance of the Greek area for human evolution. We have the oldest modern man outside of Africa, which puts the arrival of Homo Sapiens in Europe more than 150 thousand years earlier than we thought until now.

This work is the result of my 25 years of research in Africa, Europe and especially in Greece. As a Greek woman, I wish that the research in Greece will continue, as I believe that our country still has a lot to give in the field of paleoanthropology". The research team, which did, among other things, virtual reconstruction of the damaged parts of the skulls, conducted comparisons with other human fossils and used a high-precision radiometric dating method in order to determine the age of the two skulls.

"Leap 2", which is in better condition, shows Neanderthal features, while "Leap 1" has no Neanderthal traits at all, but combines modern and primitive features, which - according to scientists - places it in the Homo sapiens family . The researchers estimate that two groups lived in the Apidima cave, an early Homo sapiens population, which was then replaced by a Neanderthal population, which pre-existed in the wider area of ​​southern Greece.

In turn, the Neanderthals were replaced by ancestors of modern humans from the Upper Paleolithic period, whose earliest presence in the region dates back to about 40,000 years ago.

Many "exits" and the importance of Greece

The discovery of the age of the "Leap 1" skull, and its assessment that it belongs to Homo sapiens, reinforces the view that the ancestors of today's humans spread from Africa to Europe and Asia earlier than commonly believed. Southeastern Europe in general and the area of ​​today's Greece in particular was an important corridor for the spread of these first "immigrants" from Africa. The new study, according to the researchers, also strengthens the theory that there was not just one "exit" from the black continent, but many.

“Recession 2 is about 170,000 years old. We would say he was a Neanderthal," according to Katerina Harvati. "To our great surprise, Outbreak 1 is even older, around 210,000 years old, but has no Neanderthal features." Instead, the study highlighted a mix of modern human and archaic features, pointing to an early Homo sapiens.

"Our findings suggest that at least two groups of people lived in the area of ​​Southern Greece during the Middle Pleistocene:an early Homo sapiens population and, later, a Neanderthal group," explained Ms. Harvati. This supports the hypothesis that early modern humans made several forays beyond Africa, where they first appeared.

"The Epidima 1 skull," he said, "shows that a first dispersal occurred earlier than we thought, and that it spread much more geographically, even into the interior of Europe. We speculate that, as in the Near East, the early modern human population, represented by Epidima 1, was probably replaced by Neanderthals, whose presence in Southern Greece is clearly documented, considering the Epidima 2 skull from the same site ", he added.

However, the Neanderthals were in turn replaced by modern humans. During the Upper Paleolithic period, about 40,000 years ago, newly arrived modern humans settled in the region, as they did in the rest of Europe. Their presence is confirmed by the excavation of elaborate stone tools and other finds. On the other hand, the Neanderthals disappeared around the same time. "This discovery underlines the importance of Southeast Europe in the evolution of man," emphasized Ms. Harvati.

From the Greek side, Professor Vassilis Gorgoulis (Director of the Department of Histology – Embryology of the Medical School of the University of Athens), Professor Myrsini Kouloukoussa (Director of the Anthropological Museum of the Medical School of the EKPA), Fotis Karakostis (University of Tübingen), also participated in the study. Panagiotis Karkanas (American School of Classical Studies of Athens), radiology professor Lia Moulopoulou (EKPA School of Medicine) and assistant radiology professor Vassilis Koutoulidis (EKPA School of Medicine). Among the foreign scientists is the leading international palaeontologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.

The scientists pointed to the scant knowledge that still exists about human fossils in southeastern Europe and the importance of Greece for understanding human evolution and the first migratory movements. Thus, they are planning further studies of the material found in the Apidima cave, which was already considered important in the evolution of the human species and acquired additional value in the light of the new discoveries.

The Apidima cave was excavated in the 1970s-80s by researchers of the Anthropology Museum of the Medical School of the University of Athens, yielding important findings that are housed in the Museum, which was founded in 1886 and is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe. The new research was carried out with funding from the European Research Council to K. Harvati, as well as the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Almost simultaneously, another scientific study was published by researchers from the French National Research Center (CNRS), who also examined the two skulls from the Apidima cave, reaching a different conclusion, that they represent a transitional phase between the European "Upright Man" (Homo erectus) and Neanderthals, something with which the research team led by K. Harvati does not agree.