New evidence for the earliest modern humans in Europe

November 2, 2011
This is a photograph of the maxilla, including three teeth, of the earliest known modern human in Europe, discovered during excavations at Kent’s Cavern, Devon, in 1927. Credit: Chris Collins (NHM) and Torquay Museum

The timing, process and archeology of the peopling of Europe by early modern humans have been actively debated for more than a century. Reassessment of the anatomy and dating of a fragmentary upper jaw with three teeth from Kent's Cavern in southern England has shed new light on these issues.

Originally found in 1927, Kent's Cavern and its human have been reassessed by an international team, including Erik Trinkaus, PhD, professor of in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and the results published in Nature.

The Kent's Cavern human joins the human skull and lower jaw from the Peştera cu Oase, Romania, in establishing the presence of modern humans at both ends of Europe (northwest and southeast) by at least 40,000 years ago.

"Modern humans were previously known to be this old in southeastern Europe, but they had not been documented as early in western Europe until the reassessment of the Kent's Cavern fossil," Trinkaus says. "The new date for the Kent's Cavern suggests a rapid spread of modern humans once they had crossed into Europe."

All three of these fossils, although anatomically "modern," possess archaic features, indicating some degree of intermixture with the European Neandertals as modern human spread across Europe.

None of these fossils is associated with diagnostic archeological remains, but they date close to the appearance of the Aurignacian industry, Trinkaus says. This supports the long-held view that the Early Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian represents early modern humans in the region.

Explore further: Modern humans emerged far earlier than previously thought

Related Stories

Modern humans emerged far earlier than previously thought

October 25, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- An international team of researchers based at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, including a physical anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, ...

Ongoing evolution among modern humans

January 5, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- It has long been the common perception that once modern humans appeared more than 50,000 years ago, little has changed in human biology.

Ancestors wore shoes some 26,000 years ago

August 19, 2005

The first supportive footwear came into use in western Eurasia between 26,000 and 30,000 years ago, says a study by Washington University in St. Louis.

How modern were European Neandertals?

August 25, 2006

Neandertals were much more like modern humans than had been previously thought, according to a re-examination of finds from one of the most famous palaeolithic sites in Europe by Bristol University archaeologist, Professor ...

Scientists redate Neanderthal fossils

January 5, 2006

Scientists say two Neanderthal fossils excavated from Vindija Cave in Croatia in 1998 may be 3,000-4,000 years older than originally thought.

Recommended for you

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.