Jawbone of oldest known European found in Spain

Scientists have found a jawbone belonging to the oldest known human inhabitants of Europe who lived in a lush, game-rich region of what is now northern Spain about 1.2 million years ago.

The researchers who made the discovery at the archaeological site of Atapuerca have provisionally placed the first residents of the continent in a species called Homo antecessor, or "pioneer man", which was first named 10 years ago from remains found in one of the limestone caves at the same site.

The new lower jaw has anatomical features that are both primitively ancient and more modern, suggesting that these prehistoric humans belonged to a species that may have been a common ancestor of the Neanderthals, who became extinct about 40,000 years ago, and of modern man.

However, other scientists suggest that the jawbone is more likely to be from either a side-branch of the human family tree that later died out, or an intermediate species between the more ancient H. erectus and more recent H. neanderthalensis, rather than a direct ancestor of modern H. sapiens.

A member of the research team, Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, said that the jawbone – which contains teeth – was discovered in cave sediments alongside 32 stone tools. On the outside edge, it looks superficially similar to jawbones of H. erectus found at Dmanisi in Georgia, which date to about 1.7 million years ago, according to the study published in the journal Nature. However, the inside edge of the jaw is more modern-looking, it said.

"I think this part of human history is poorly known in Europe. We have very few fossils and artefacts. But this jawbone is the oldest human fossil we have from western Europe," said Dr de Castro, of Spain's National Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, in Burgos.

"The study of the human mandible suggests that the first settlement of western Europe could be related to an early demographic expansion out of Africa," he added.

Professor Chris Stringer, the head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said that the timing of the first humans' arrival in Europe had always been controversial. "While early H. erectus fossils are known from Dmanisi in Georgia, dated to about 1.7 million years ago, the oldest European fossils, from the Gran Dolina site at Atapuerca in Spain, and from Ceprano in Italy, are only about half of that age," Professor Stringer said.

"There are sites in Spain, France and Italy which appear to have stone tools dated as far back as 1.5 million years, but these have no associated human fossils, and some workers have expressed doubts about the reliability of the dating.

"Now these excavations at another Atapuerca site, Sima del Elefante, have revealed part of the front of a human lower jaw containing several teeth, dated to about 1.1-1.2 million years ago," he said. "The jaw bone is small – perhaps from a female – and, on the outside surface, it mainly shows features found in earlier fossils of H. erectus and even H. habilis. But, on the internal surface, it is quite lightly built – an advanced feature found in later humans."

It is not known whether the species migrated to western Europe from Asia or Africa, or originated there from an ancestral stock that has yet to be identified. "However the specimen is classified, when combined with the emerging archaeological evidence, it suggests that southern Europe began to be colonised from western Asia not long after humans had emerged from Africa – something which many of us would have doubted even five years ago," he said. "I am cautious about inferring that this new find indicates that H. antecessor had originated in western Europe out of a founding population like the sample known from Dmanisi."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?