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Apidima 1 – A New Look At Old Skull

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In the 1970’s, the Apidima Cave site in Greece was excavated by archaeologists. Lodged within a chunk of rock was the Apidima 1 specimen. It was found adjacent to a distorted 170,000 year old Neanderthal skull called Apidima 2. In the image below you can see how close in proximity the two specimens were discovered. Suffice to say, for the last 40 years, it is not surprising that Apidima 1 was a thought to be Neanderthal, too.

The two skulls appear to have washed into Apidima cave A with sediments that later solidified into breccia. Harvati et al., 2019

The two skulls appear to have washed into Apidima cave A with sediments that later solidified into breccia. Harvati et al., 2019

Katerina Harvati and her crew recently took a second look at Apidima 1 and published their findings in Nature. They suggest that the Apidima 1 fossil is Homo sapiens. As if that is not earth-shattering enough, they redated the specimen and say that it’s roughly 210,000 years old. That makes it the oldest member of our species ever found outside of Africa.

Apidima 1. A view of the Apidima 1 skull from behind (a), above (b), and below (c). The scale bar represents 5 cm. Harvarti et al., 2019

Apidima 1. A view of the Apidima 1 skull from behind (a), above (b), and below (c). The scale bar represents 5 cm. Harvarti et al., 2019

Using computed tomography, or CT scanning, the team was able to perform a digital reconstruction of the distorted, fragmented skull. With the reconstruction, they performed a comparative anatomical study to other fossil skills from modern humans, older hominins, Neanderthals, etc. The Apidima specimen was found to have a rounded skull at the back; this feature is unique to our modern day species, Homo sapiens.

The Apidima 1 partial cranium (right) and its reconstruction from posterior view (middle) and side view (left). Harvarti et al., 2019

The Apidima 1 partial cranium (right) and its reconstruction from posterior view (middle) and side view (left). Harvarti et al., 2019

The team then used uranium-series dating to redate the skull. They estimate that the Apidima 1 skull could be as much as 210,000 years old. This makes it older than Misliya-1, another fossil discovery I covered in January 2018, and makes it the oldest modern human outside Africa.

Coupled with ancient DNA studies which have suggested that 270,000 years ago Neanderthals were met by early waves of human migrants, there is growing evidence that early humans spread out of Africa earlier and migrated wider faster than we previously assumed.

What do you think this means for the Out of Africa theory?

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