Earliest Europeans lived more than 40,000 years ago
This baby tooth appears to have come from a human who lived more than 40,000 years ago.
November 2nd, 2011
02:20 PM ET

Earliest Europeans lived more than 40,000 years ago

Two groups of researchers have discovered evidence of humans living in Europe more than 40,000 years ago, older than any physical remains found there before.

"They’re essentially the same as us," said Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford, who studied a jawbone that had been found in 1927 near Torquay in the United Kingdom.

These humans may have had darker skin than modern Europeans, more like today's Africans, and perhaps more robust facial characteristics, but were otherwise quite physically similar, he said.

Higham and colleagues used a refined carbon dating technique called ultrafiltration to determine that the jawbone dates from between 41,500 and 44,200 years ago. Previous estimates had put it at about 35,000 years old.

Meanwhile, in southern Italy, a different team of scientists, led by Stefano Benazzi of the University of Vienna in Austria, found two molars that are about 43,000 to 45,000 years old. The teeth were found near shell beads and other ornaments.

"They have ornaments for the first time in this part of the world, like pierced shells and pierced teeth of sometimes dangerous animals like wolves and bears and lions, and a range of different tools that were made out of bone," he said. They may have also used wooden tools, but those aren't found frequently, he said.

The two discoveries together confirm humans' early dispersal into Europe from Africa, Higham said. These findings are published in the journal Nature.

"The process by which modern humans went out of Africa, how that happened, it may have been that it happened much earlier than we think," Higham said. And if they were in England by 41,500 years ago, they must have traveled fairly quickly.

Neanderthals also lived around this period, going extinct between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. The Neandertal Genome Project has found that between 1% to 4% of modern human DNA in people living outside of Africa is shared with Neanderthals, suggesting that either there was interbreeding or that this is the remnant of shared ancestry.

"There's a big debate over whether Neanderthals had similar types of behavior" to the early humans, Higham said.

Modern humans evolved maybe 150,000 years ago, perhaps even earlier, he said.

"The big question is the process by which modern humans went out of Africa, where they went and how that happened, and the date and which that happened. It may have been that it happened much, much earlier than we think," he said.

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Filed under: Discoveries • On Earth
soundoff (582 Responses)
  1. Marlo Kauppi

    Boris I can't see your link, but if there's a box for your meta description, I'd fill it in. For example, I'm using the All-In-One SEO pack (plugin) and creating a meta-d for all of my posts. This plugin then publishes the description for me automatically.

    December 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  2. The 8th Dimension

    Laugha while you can, monkey boy.

    November 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  3. b4bigbang

    I believe the universe is only about 6,000 or so years old.

    November 18, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • CrazyOwlLady

      And you just posted that because you really, really want attention. Oh dam, I just gave you some. My bad.

      November 18, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Juniys Gallio

      THe neat thing about science is that it's not based on :belief." You can "believe" whatever you wish–no matter how rational, or how delusional, your beliefs, it does not make one bit of difference.

      November 19, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  4. luke

    ancient people but if they died you would stick a stick up their nose and pick their brains out gross is'nt it and i am seven years old

    November 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Dr.K.

      Well done, Luke. Just throw in some disparaging comment about liberals and sprinkle of young earth creationism and the quality of your post will fit right in.

      November 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  5. grafvonbraun

    While I have no doubt modern humans were in Europe 40,000 years or more ago,I dispute that they were dark-skinned or African.How do you know that? It is interesting that the modern human remains unearthed in Europe,the Mid-east and W.Asia have all been identified as having Caucasian traits.Some have been dated far back as 45,000 in Europe 100,000 yrs in W.Asia and the Mid-East. In fact recently an article in Scientific American reported the oldest known modern human skeleton had been discovered in Israel.It had Caucasian features and was dated to be over 150,000 yrs old As for the "Out of Africa" theory,If modern humans came from Africa,it could have been from NORTH AFRICA! which is populated by mostly Caucasians! Sub-saharian Africa is the mostly Negroid {black} half . When these politically-correct egg-heads push their beliefs onto science,then their version of science becomes a "religion".

    November 7, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Dr.K.

      Good thing you're so much better informed than those ignorant politically correct eggheads. Maybe you're smarter cause you're Caucasian. You wouldn't happen to be Caucasian, would you?

      November 11, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Common Sense

      Actually everything he said is true obviously you've never been to a museum have you Mr K?And let me guess your sub-saharan?

      November 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
      • Dr.K.

        Given what I do professionally, the irony of your statement is staggering. Maybe I'll walk down the hall and look in the museum again. Haven't been in there since just before lunch...

        November 11, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
      • CrazyOwlLady

        Ah. I love the smell of irony in the afternoon. Common Sense, don't look now but there's a commie Marxist scientist under your bed.

        November 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  6. CrazyOwlLady

    From the top of this web page: "Light Years strives to tell the stories of science research, discovery, space and education."

    It's amusing how many devout religious people flock to science forums to tell us that we are wrong, scientists don't know everything, and that their god/holy book/creed is correct. This is often accompanied by cries of persecution especially when, predictably, debate of that viewpoint is offered. I see the same thing happen on religion blogs here on CNN, only in reverse. We may be 40,000 years away from the people depicted in this article, but we apparently have not changed too much, many of us.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Tha Chikin


      November 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
      • ldtisdale

        well, seriously in 400,000 years none of this will matter anyway... lmfao.

        November 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
      • CrazyOwlLady

        At least not to any of us. 🙂

        November 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
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