A Stone Age archaeological site on the banks of the river Don in southern Russia has been identified by scientists as the earliest known settlement of modern humans in Europe.
The discovery has provided support for the idea that the first migration of modern humans out of sub-Saharan Africa occurred less than 50,000 years ago.
Scientists have dated the artefacts from the Russian site to 45,000BC, which would make the inhabitants the earliest known ancestors of Europeans today.
"The big surprise here is the very early presence of modern humans in one of the coldest, driest places in Europe," said John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
"It is one of the last places we would have expected people from Africa to occupy first," added Dr Hoffecker, who worked on the site with colleagues from the Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg.
The discovery is published in the journal Science alongside another study showing that a skull found in South Africa has been dated to about 35,000 years ago and bears a close resemblance of the skulls of Stone A ge Europeans.
Both discoveries suggest that modern humans left Africa less than 50,000 years ago on a migration path that led them east to Asia and north to Europe.Reuse content