origin of humans; migration to Europe (Origins)

by David Turell @, Thursday, February 01, 2024, 15:50 (112 days ago) @ David Turell

Around 45,000 year ago:


"More than 45,000 years ago, small bands of hunters chased horses, reindeer, and mammoth over a vast expanse of tundra that stretched across most of northern Europe. They rarely stayed anywhere for long, leaving behind a scattering of stone tools and traces of the odd campfire in the depths of caves.

"For more than a century, archaeologists debated whether these artifacts were left by some of the last Neanderthals to roam Europe—or the first modern humans to brave the northern reaches of the continent.

"A trio of papers published today in Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution may help settle the question. Between 2016 and 2022, archaeologists recovered fragments of hominin bone from a cave in the central German village of Ranis. The bones were at least 45,000 years old, and their DNA has now identified them as the remains of our species. “We now have a Homo sapiens population in northern Europe long before Neanderthals disappeared,” says Marcel Weiss, an archaeologist at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg who supervised the excavations.

"What’s more, the bones were found with a type of stone blade known from other sites across northern Europe, from the British Isles to modern-day Poland. Archaeologists once assumed they were the handiwork of Neanderthals, but the Ranis bones hint that the tools—a style called Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ)—are modern humans’ calling card. “This suggests that early humans were far more widely spread, much earlier than we thought,” says University of Vienna archaeological scientist Tom Higham, who was not involved with the research. “What seems to be emerging is a complex mosaic pattern” in northern Europe, with pioneering bands of modern humans sharing the continent with Neanderthals.

"The Ranis bones aren’t the only evidence for H. sapiens’s early presence in Europe: In 2022, members of the same team reported finding 45,000-year-old modern human remains at a cave in Bulgaria called Bacho Kiro. A woman’s skull reported last year from Zlatý kůň, a site in the Czech Republic, had well-preserved modern human DNA and may be more than 43,000 years old. Another team has claimed still older H. sapiens finds—including a tooth from a cave in southern France that may be 54,000 years old.


"The new evidence from Ranis, added to Bacho Kiro and Zlatý kůň suggests that rather than a single wave, small groups of modern humans moved from Africa into Europe piecemeal starting about 48,000 years ago, overlapping with Neanderthals for many millennia. “That implies coexistence and competition and interaction. It’s a much more complex and diverse process,” says Carles Lalueza-Fox, an archaeologist who now directs the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona and was not part of the research team.

"Genetic evidence has confirmed that the two groups sometimes met and interacted. DNA results from Bacho Kiro, for example, showed that people there had Neanderthal ancestors within six generations, although the Zlatý kůň woman had no recent Neanderthal ancestry. Analysis of the genetic results from the Ranis individuals is ongoing, but early results hint at the mobility of these small bands, showing close connections to the skull found at Zlatý kůň, more than 500 kilometers to the south.


"Oxygen isotopes from horse teeth in the cave’s LRJ layers, for example, captured a hyperlocal weather report from 48,000 years ago. The average forecast? What researchers call “peri-Arctic,” or 7°C to 15°C colder than modern-day Germany. “These guys spread in a very hostile environment, like the north of Scandinavia today,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, a paleoanthropologist at the College of France who led the Ranis research.


"Though they apparently managed to make a go of it for millennia, ultimately the Ranis people and their contemporaries “weren’t entirely successful,” Hublin says. “They didn’t replace the Neanderthals living farther south, and at least when we try to trace the descendants of people of this time, from Bacho Kiro, it seems we have very little of their genome in later populations.” About 40,000 years ago, a new wave of modern humans arrived and proliferated on a much larger scale. It was those people who soon pushed Neanderthals to the margins, and then to extinction."

Comment: we are seeing a gradual exposition of how sapiens arrived and took over Europe at very cold times. The issue becomes what made them leave warmer climates? Were they forced to?

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