Fossil Sites Of The First Europeans

The oldest fossil sites from the earliest settlement phase of Europe are known, as mentioned above, from the period two to one million years bp. Some finds only provide indirect evidence about Europe's original inhabitants, since they contain stone tools rather than human bones. Known for the tools discovered there are the sites of Ubeidiya, Israel (1 million years old) and Orge in Spain, which has been shown to have an age of c. 1.6 million years. Certainly, the finds from Dmanisi, Georgia (Figure 6b) caused a sensation. Dmanisi is a medieval ghost town near the Armenian border, where since 1991 fossils have been uncovered that are nearly 1.8 million years old. Human lower jaws and four skulls with Homo erectus characteristics have been recovered from this unique find site to date, as well as a large number of stone tools. Richer evidence about the users of these tools comes from the second settlement phase, which took place about 600,000 years ago in one of the warm periods of the Cromer Complex. To this group belong the finds from Atapuerca, Mauer, Boxgrove in England, and Ceprano, a small locale southeast of Rome. For a long time, Homo heidelbergensis, discovered in Mauer (Baden-Württemberg) in 1907, was regarded as the oldest European (Figure 9a). This find, with an age of about 600,000 years, received confirmation with the discoveries from Spanish Atapuerca. The fossil remains from the site at Gran Dolina, which came not just from adults but also from children or youths, have been dated to 800,000 years bp.

In the same discovery year as Gran Dolina, 1994, excavators also unearthed some remarkable skull fragments in Ceprano, Italy. Their age is estimated at c. 800,000-900,000 years. How far both finds can be classified as Homo antecessor—the forerunner human—is still a matter of argument. In the opinion of Juan Luis Arsuaga, the discoverer of Gran Dolina, these individuals represent the last ancestor common to both Neanderthals and modern humans. To date, this view has not won general acceptance. The Ceprano find might provide a link between the African Homo erectus and the European Homo heidelbergensis—but that is speculation. Less speculative is the significance of the remains found at Boxgrove, England, whose age is estimated at about 500,000 years. The tibia fragment and two human teeth were uncovered alongside numerous animal and tool finds, suggesting that the discoverers had unearthed a campsite. Settlement sites provide the best information for archaeologists and anthropologists to gain insight into the daily life of early humans. What did they eat? Where was fire made and food cooked? Were there already specialized activity areas for tool-makers, clothes-makers, and gatherers? The famous site of Bilzingsleben in Thuringia, about 350,000400,000 years old, offers a small peek into early human life with its remains of food, shelters, and fire areas (Figure 10a).

There were further Homo heidelbergensis finds at Arago (southern France) and Petralona and Apidima in Greece (Figure 9b). Sometimes researchers also interpret the skull from Petralona, with a volume of

Figure 9 (a) In the Grafenrain sandpit in Mauer near Heidelberg, the oldest Middle European came to light in 1907. The jawbone of the early human Homo heidelbergensis was dated to an age of c. 600,000 years. (b) Fifty kilometers southeast of Saloniki the 200,000-year-old skull Petralona I was uncovered in 1960. Morphologically the skull, which is usually categorized as Homo heidelbergensis, displays characteristics that already suggest the archaic Homo sapiens. (c) Arago XXI, nicknamed "Tautavel Man," is an estimated 400,000 years old. The skull, found in southern France in 1971, has a brain volume of over 1150 cm3.

Figure 9 (a) In the Grafenrain sandpit in Mauer near Heidelberg, the oldest Middle European came to light in 1907. The jawbone of the early human Homo heidelbergensis was dated to an age of c. 600,000 years. (b) Fifty kilometers southeast of Saloniki the 200,000-year-old skull Petralona I was uncovered in 1960. Morphologically the skull, which is usually categorized as Homo heidelbergensis, displays characteristics that already suggest the archaic Homo sapiens. (c) Arago XXI, nicknamed "Tautavel Man," is an estimated 400,000 years old. The skull, found in southern France in 1971, has a brain volume of over 1150 cm3.

Homo Sapiens Skull
Figure 9 Continued

1200 cm3, as ante-Neanderthal. With an age of400,000 years, this would mean a very early appearance of Neanderthal forebears. In general, it is assumed that the first ante-Neanderthals settled Europe about 350,000 years ago.

CLASSIFICATION OF THE FINDS

So much for the find sites of Europe's first humans. Next we must consider the division of these finds of fossil bones. Which find belongs in which group? Where are crossovers between two forms apparent? Where, for that matter, did the Neanderthals come from? For laypeople, the interpretation of fossil human finds is a book with seven seals, even when authors and scholars take pains to give brief overviews of the various enumerations and divisions. Next to the dating of the fossilized remains of the first Europeans, their division into groups and their interpretation as part of the complete history of humanity represents, up to the present,

Figure 9 Continued

one of the greatest challenges for scholars. There has also been much conjecture about the age of the first Europeans ever since the discovery of the Neanderthal in 1856. Today it is certain that the Neanderthals were not the very first Europeans, but were rather a first self-standing European human species that was flexible enough to adapt to Europe's ice ages. Highly developed, but in a different way than the modern humans who were emerging at the same time in Africa—that was the Neanderthals.

The beginning of the Neanderthal revolution, the development of the African emigrants into Neanderthals, cannot be fixed with any precision. Many fossils, depending on their age, demonstrate more or fewer of the Neanderthals' anatomical characteristics (which will be examined in more detail in the next chapter). Many of these transitional forms were hence assigned their own species names. Thus there is (or was), for example, European Homo erectus types with the names Homo heidelbergensis, Homo petraloniensis from Greece, and Homo tautavelensis, whose remains were uncovered in Arago. The name Homo antecessor has been applied to the early Spanish finds from the Gran Dolina Cave near Atapuerca. All of these humans developed idiosyncratic anatomical features and anatomically independent geographical variants. The Mousterian tool culture, named after the French find site, was so astonishingly widely distributed that one can conclude from it that these human groups could not have been particularly independent from each other in cultural terms. If one examines the anatomy of the first Europeans in greater detail—for example, the oldest find from central Europe, the lower jaw from Mauer near Heidelberg—it becomes plain that Homo heidelbergensis might be a possible link to Africa. This find, which Otto Schoetensack first described and assigned to its own species as Heidelberg Man, shows morphological similarities to finds from Algerian Ternifine (Tighennif) that are dated to 700,000 years BP, and also to the African fossils from Bodo in Ethiopia and Ndutu, Tanzania. All of them, along with the Heidelberg find, are often declared to be archaic Homo sapiens finds. Is the Homo heidelbergensis therefore a "transitional model" between Homo erectus and modern humans? One might speak with equal justice of a developed Homo erectus, though. For if one designates these finds as archaic Homo sapiens, the evolutionary path leads unhesitatingly on to Homo sapiens. But that is only the case in Africa, for in Europe evolution took a different path, the one that led to the Neanderthals.

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