Skulls of the first Homo sapiens in Europe

Nature introduces us to the Greek ancestors of modern humanity – by far the oldest-known Homo sapiens, relatively recently discovered in a cave in southern Greece:

Harvati et al. describe their analysis of a fossil from Apidima Cave in southern Greece that they report to be an early modern H. sapiens at least 210,000 years old. This fossil is the oldest known modern human in Europe, and probably in all of Eurasia, and is more than 160,000 years older than the next oldest known European fossil of H. sapiens.

The Apidima Cave complex was excavated in the late 1970s. Two partial crania (skulls without the lower jaw), named Apidima 1 and Apidima 2, were recovered in a single block of a type of rock called breccia. Neither fossil was previously described in detail. Apidima 2 includes the facial region of the skull and had been identified as a Neanderthal. Apidima 1 consists of only the back of the skull and had not been previously allocated definitively to a species. Harvati and colleagues used computed tomography to scan the fossils, and generated a 3D virtual reconstruction of each specimen.

The posterior part of the cranium is rounded like that of H. sapiens, and it lacks classic Neanderthal features, such as the distinctive occipital ‘chignon’ — a bulge at the back of the skull that is shaped like hair tied in a bun.

Earlier dating of a fragment of Apidima 2 using a method called uranium-series analysis indicated a minimum age of around 160,000 years. Harvati and colleagues report a more extensive set of uranium-series dating analyses, which surprisingly reveal that Apidima 1 and Apidima 2 are of different ages, even though they were found in close proximity. Apidima 2 is around 170,000 years old — well within the age range of other Neanderthal fossils found across Europe…. Apidima 1 is dated to be at least 210,000 years old, which is much older than any other widely accepted H. sapiens fossils found outside Africa.

You can read the original research here.