Excavations: Oldest evidence of early humans in Europe

According to a study, early humans were in Europe around 1.

Excavations: Oldest evidence of early humans in Europe

According to a study, early humans were in Europe around 1.4 million years ago, significantly earlier than previously assumed. This is suggested by a layer of stone tools in an excavation site near Korolewo in the Ukraine, reports a research team in the journal Nature. The earliest evidence of early humans in Europe to date from excavation sites in Atapuerca (Spain) and the Vallonet Cave in southern France are 1.1 to 1.2 million years old. The group led by Roman Garba from the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague suspects that Europe may have been populated from east to west.

The excavation site near Korolewo was discovered in 1974 and has been studied many times since then. "Although Korolewo's importance to the European Paleolithic is widely recognized, age limits for the lowest stone artifacts have yet to be conclusively clarified," the study authors write. To determine the age of this layer, they used two dating methods based on rare radioactive isotopes: beryllium-10 and aluminum-26. They arise when cosmic radiation hits deposits containing quartz. The isotopes decay very slowly and the age of a layer can be determined by their relationship to one another.

Both methods gave an age of around 1.42 million years. An age determination of samples from the excavation site in Atapuerca, Spain, using one of the methods resulted in an age of 1.12 million years.

Oldest Homo erectus find in Europe

The stone tools found, which the researchers assign to early humans of the species Homo erectus, are the oldest known to date in Europe. Although early human bones around 1.8 million years old were found in Georgia, the site of Dmanisi is in the southern Georgian Caucasus, just outside Europe.

The spatial and temporal sequence of the various finds provides the researchers with a clear indication that early humans gradually advanced into Europe from east to west. They may have come from the Levant (Middle East), where stone tools that are two to two and a half million years old and similar to those in Korolevo were found in the Zarqa Valley in Jordan. The hominids could then have come to what is now western Ukraine either via the Caucasus or via Asia Minor (Turkey).

Did people move to higher latitudes before?

The site near Korolewo is near the Tisza, a tributary of the Danube. The team suspects that a group of early humans may have migrated upstream along the Danube to Europe. However, there are still too few finds related to early humans in Europe to establish a reliable chronology. "But for now we can say that the settlement of Korolevo around 1.4 million years ago challenges the assumption that humans moved to higher latitudes only after the widespread colonization of southern Europe around 1.2 million years ago."

If the assignment of the tools to Homo erectus is correct, Korolewo, at 48.2 degrees north latitude, would be the northernmost place known to date where this early human species stayed. The conditions for this were probably not bad 1.42 million ago: At that time there were three interglacial warm periods that were among the warmest of their era (early Pleistocene).