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Tuesday, September 23, 2003
 

Earliest modern humans in Europe found

A research team co-directed by Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, has dated a human jawbone from a Romanian bear hibernation cave to between 34,000 and 36,000 years ago. That makes it the earliest known modern human fossil in Europe.

...

To determine the fossils' implications for human evolution, Trinkaus and colleagues performed radiocarbon dating of the jawbone (dating of the other remains is in progress) and a comparative anatomical analysis of the sample. The jawbone dates from between 34,000 and 36,000 years ago, placing the specimens in the period during which early modern humans overlapped with late surviving Neandertals in Europe.

Most of their anatomical characteristics are similar to those of other early modern humans found at sites in Africa, in the Middle East and later in Europe, but certain features, such as the unusual molar size and proportions, indicate their archaic human origins and a possible Neandertal connection.

The researchers document that these early modern humans retained some archaic characteristics, possibly through interbreeding with Neandertals. Nevertheless, because few well-dated remains from this period have been found, the fossil remains help to fill in an important phase in modern human emergence.

hmmm, see Clan of the Cave Bear for some seemingly related stories.

UPDATE: The PBS Nova special Neanderthals on Trial was rebroadcast today. There was some interesting discussion about the difficulty of interpretation, the struggle to separate what researchers wish to prove from what the evidence supports. From the transcript:

NARRATOR: So it appears that Font├ęchevade [a falsely interpreted dig] was an elaborate illusion and not a human habitation site at all.

What made it look real to the archaeologists was an overwhelming desire to see the past in a certain way.

The urge to distance ourselves from Neanderthals or to pull them closer to us is a surprisingly powerful force.

Archaeologists Jean Philippe Rigaud and Jan Simek are well aware of the problem.

JAN SIMEK: I think that we're as guilty of it today, of that kind of preconceived approach to our data, as anybody has been in the history of archaeology or anthropology. It's almost inevitable that our own views of the world will be brought to bear.

posted by back40 | 9/23/2003 07:06:00 PM

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