Paleoanthropology is the study of our shared Human Origins. We know from near 100 years of study, that our lineage began in Africa, somewhere between 6 and 7 mya. (Million Years Ago).
There have been numerous finds that support this theory, known as the Recent African Origins Hypothesis, or better known as the Out of Africa 2 Model. We have empirical evidence, the fossil record to support what we know and think about our evolution in Africa during this time. From the Australopiths that lived 3-4 million years ago, to the rise of our genus, Homo.
Another great question that many anthropologists have, is how did modern humans get where they are today? Or, especially, how did the many various hominin fossils that we have found around the world, arrive there? We have Neanderthals all across Europe and the Levant, Denisovans in Asia, and more. All of these hominins date to well within the last 1 million years.
At a site in Spain, the farthest western area of Europe, we have the well known area of Atapuerca. It is a great case, where many hominin fossils have been found. Thus far, the fossils found in this chasm have been dated to being the oldest hominin fossils in Europe, dating to around 1.2 mya. While the fossils in Dmanisi date to around 1.8 mya, it is not considered to be apart of Europe, and not only that, but those specimen seem to be Homo erectus. The fossils found here, are much different.
In 2007 a jaw of an unknown hominin species was discovered in level 9 of Sima del Elafante, and at the time it was declared the oldest hominin in Europe. Now, lower in the chasm, by about two meters lower, another jaw, and tooth have been discovered, dating to about 1.4 mya. This is big news, as this makes it the oldest hominin in Europe by 200ky if not more.
Now the important thing to remember, is how far away Spain is from Africa, to have hominins this old so far away from Africa, changes how we think about the diaspora of hominins out of Africa. When did they leave? Where did they arrive, and how long were they there?
What species of hominin could they be? One possibility is that they belong to the known species H. antecessor which is believed to be the last common ancestor of Modern Humans, Neanderthals, and possibly even Denisovans.
An important thing to keep in mind however, is the dates have been calculated by where they are in the chasm, they have not been dated yet using a typical method, which will take about a year to get the final results in.
One of the most interesting aspects of the partial mandible and face that was found, is that there is a distinct, very human like chin. Something that we do not see in any other species besides our own. So what could this species be? As always, there will be more to learn and to figure out, but this find is truly astonishing and adds to another year of amazing finds.
The fossil was discovered by Édgar Téllez, on June 30th 2022, so this is truly very breaking news. There is just so much we can investigate and learn about this, and it is only the beginning.
“Téllez quickly warned Rosa Huguet, coordinator of the Sima del Elefante site. “His face when he saw what he had found was different than other times,” the scientist recalls.” (1)
The fossils have been presented this Friday in the town of Burgos by the three co-directors of Atapuerca (Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermúdez de Castro and Eudald Carbonell), by Rosa Huguet and by Gonzalo Santonja, Minister of Culture of Castilla y León.”(1)
“This discovery will probably help us to know the species that socialized Europe,” Carbonell said. It is possible that there are previous hominids, he has argued, but these were the ones that began to establish the most numerous and permanent populations.” (1)
Along with the partial face, the tooth that was discovered may present a good opportunity for protein analysis, which can inform us a great deal about these hominins, from their health, to what they ate, and so much more.
Keep an eye out on this space for more information on this incredible find as it becomes available!
Until next time; there is always more to learn!