Thursday, November 3, 2011

Earlier dispersal of modern humans in Europe

Two new studies published yesterday in Nature together suggest that anatomically modern humans may have reached Europe a few thousand years earlier than previously thought. While examples of Aurignacian culture had helped us arrive at a date of approximately 43-42 kyBP for the arrival of AMHs in Europe, physical human evidence dated only to 41 kyBP at the earliest. One study reanalyzed two molars found in Italy in 1964. The molars had long been described as Neanderthal, but have only now been shown to be human through "two independent morphometric methods based on microtomographic data." The molars were dated to 45-43 kyBP. The other study revisited a maxilla, KC4, discovered in a British cave in 1927. Originally underestimated to 36-34 kyBP, researchers dated KC4 to 44.2-41.5 kyBP. The molars and KC4 now represent the oldest evidence of AMHs in all of Europe and in northwestern Europe, respectively. These findings suggest a rapid expansion of humans into Europe before the disappearance of the Neanderthals, adding fuel to the fire of the human-Neanderthal admixture debate.

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