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CNR: Alamanacco della Scienza

Archivio

N. 18 - 9 nov 2011
ISSN 2037-4801

International info   a cura di Cecilia Migali

Cultura

Homo sapiens arrived earlier in Europe than previously known  

Members of our species (Homo sapiens) arrived in Europe several millennia earlier than previously thought. At this conclusion a team of researchers, led by the Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, arrived after re-analyses of two ancient deciduous teeth.

These teeth were discovered 1964 in the 'Grotta del Cavallo', a prehistoric cave in southern Italy. Since their discovery they have been attributed to Neanderthals, but this new study suggests they belong to anatomically modern humans. Chronometric analysis, carried out by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford, shows that the human remains are older than any other known European modern humans. The research work was published in the renowned science journal 'Nature'.

Stefano Benazzi, post-doc at the Department of Anthropology at University of Vienna, and his colleagues were able to compare digital models derived from micro-computed tomography scans of the human remains from Grotta del Cavallo with those of a large modern human and Neanderthal dental sample: "We worked with two independent methods: for the one, we measured the thickness of the tooth enamel, and for the other, the general outline of the crown. By means of micro-computed tomography it was possible to compare the internal and external features of the dental crown. The results clearly show that the specimens from Grotta del Cavallo were modern humans, not Neanderthals as originally thought."

"What the new dates mean", Benazzi summarised, "is that these two teeth from Grotta del Cavallo represent the oldest European modern human fossils currently known. This find confirms that the arrival of our species on the continent - and thus the period of coexistence with Neanderthals - was several thousand years longer than previously thought. Based on this fossil evidence, we have confirmed that modern humans and not Neanderthals are the makers of the Uluzzian culture. This has important implications to our understanding of the development of 'fully modern' human behaviour. Whether the colonisation of the continent occurred in one or more waves of expansion and which routes were followed is still to be established."

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