An approximately 210,000-year-old skull found in Greece represents the earliest evidence for modern humans in Eurasia, reports a study published online in Nature this week. A second skull from the same site is estimated to be 170,000 years old and has Neanderthal features. These findings provide support that modern humans dispersed out of African earlier, reaching further, than previously thought.
Southeast Europe is considered to be a major corridor for the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa. Two fossilized human skulls were discovered in Apidima Cave, southern Greece, in the late 1970s, but had not been described in detail owing to the lack of associated context and the fragmented nature of the specimens. Katerina Harvati and colleagues use modern dating and imaging techniques to perform a detailed comparative analysis of the two skulls, which are identified as Apidima 1 and Apidima 2.
Apidima 2 shows Neanderthal-like features, such as a thick, rounded brow ridge (supraorbital torus), and dates to more than 170,000 years ago. Apidima 1 has a combination of modern human and ancestral features, such as a rounded posterior cranium (back of the skull), a characteristic unique to modern humans. It is at least 210,000 years old, predating the previously reported oldest H. sapiens in Europe by more than 150,000 years.
These analyses indicate that modern humans dispersed out of Africa much earlier than previously thought, and support the hypothesis that there were multiple dispersals, the authors conclude.