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the Ancient World => Neolithic Europe => Topic started by: Charmaine on November 06, 2011, 07:42:10 pm

Title: Evidence of Earliest Known Modern Human in Northwest Europe Discovered
Post by: Charmaine on November 06, 2011, 07:42:10 pm
Evidence of Earliest Known Modern Human in Northwest Europe Discovered

Wed, Nov 02, 2011


Re-dating of a fossil human jawbone from a cave in England may help answer questions about the advent and spread of modern humans in Europe.
Evidence of Earliest Known Modern Human in Northwest Europe Discovered

First excavated in 1927 from the limestone context of Kent's Cavern in southwestern England, the fragment of a modern human upper jaw bone (maxilla) containing three teeth was dated by Oxford University scientists in 1989 to about 35,000 B.P.

But there was a fly in the ointment.

The specimen had traces of modern glue on the surface, a result of the efforts to conserve the bone after discovery. This, according to scientists who examined the maxilla at a later time, would skew any results from dating the object.

Said Beth Shapiro, Shaffer Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State University and a member of a new research team examining the jawbone, "we knew we were going to have to do additional testing to re-date the bone."

But because the uncontaminated portion of the maxilla was considered too small for testing, the team had to extract data from the archives and collections in the Torquay Museum (of the Torquay Natural History Society located in Devon, England, the original excavators) and obtain other animal bone specimens from depths originally recorded above and below the location in the cave where the maxilla was found.  Using the latest techniques, radiocarbon dates for bones of cave bear, deer, woolly rhinoceros and wolf were obtained.  Applying Bayesian statistical-modelling, the scientists were then able to calculate a new age for the maxilla.

The new date: Between 44,000 and 41,000 years B.P.

"The new dating evidence we have obtained allows us, for the first time, to pinpoint the real age of this key specimen," says Tom Higham, Deputy Director of Oxford University's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and a member of the research team.  "We believe this piece of jawbone is the earliest direct evidence we have of modern humans in northwestern Europe."

According to Shapiro, the new date range also provides evidence supporting the coexistence of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in Europe.  "If the jawbone is, in fact, 44,000 to 41,000 years old, that means it was from a time when Neanderthals were still present in Europe, so we first had to confirm that the bone was from an anatomically modern human, and not a Neanderthal."  The sampling material was insufficient for valid DNA sequencing, so the team used a virtual three-dimensional model based on CT scanning of the jawbone for detailed analysis. They then compared resulting data from the teeth of the jawbone with those of other modern human and Neanderthal fossils from a number of different archaeological sites. They found that early modern human dental characteristics predominated in the jawbone.

The findings present additional perspective and evidence on the advent and dispersal speed of early modern humans on the European stage.  "The new date and identification of this bone from Kent's Cavern is very important, as we now have direct evidence that modern humans were in northwest Europe about 42,500 years ago," says Higham.  "It confirms the presence of modern humans at the time of the earliest Aurignacian culture, and tells us a great deal about the dispersal speed of our species across Europe during the last Ice Age".

The Aurignacian period of human cultural development was represented by a tool industry in Europe and southwest Asia that included worked bone or antler points, flint tools of fine blades and bladelets struck from prepared cores .  This culture is also known for some of the earliest known cave art, such as the paintings at Chauvet cave in southern France, as well as ivory beads, bracelets, pendants, and three-dimensional figurines.  While Aurignacian material remains have been dated as old as 44,000 years, until now, the dates for early modern human remains in the same geographic areas have been no earlier than between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago.

Details and analysis of the findings are currently published in the journal Nature.

In addition to Shapiro, Higham, and Compton, other members of the research team included Chris Stringer, Roger Jacobi, and Chris Collins of the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom; Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in the United States; Barry Chandler of the Torquay Museum in the United Kingdom; Flora Gröning, Paul O'Higgins, and Michael Fagan of the University of Hull in the United Kingdom; Simon Hillson of University College London in the United Kingdom; and Charles FitzGerald of McMaster University in Canada.

The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Natural Environment Research Council.