Apidima 1 – A New Look At Old Skull

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?

7 thoughts on “Apidima 1 – A New Look At Old Skull

  1. Very interesting, thanks a lot. Note loss of ‘archaic’ traits (e.g. platycephaly) or acquisition of modern traits (e.g. “rounded skull at the back”) could have evolved independently (in parallel) at different times or places. IOW, if the Apidima-1 skull was sapiens-like (in some or all traits), this does not mean that it was (on the way to) our species, google e.g. “coastal dispersal of Pleistocene Homo 2018 biology vs anthropocentrism”.

  2. There is still no doubt that hominids evolved in Africa.

    As I understand it, there is a large body of evidence pointing to a migration ca 100-70,000 years BP.

    One skull does not make a “migration”.

  3. There has been a lot of criticism and scepticism. Arsuaga for example considered the claim very inconclusive. I personally fail to see the frontal bulge (expanded forehead characteristic of our species) and see instead a very marked browridge, very uncharacteristic. This is very apparent in the image you share, in the view from above (b), so my take is that it’s just another archaic, even if it may be a hybrid of some sort or related with the proto-sapiens population of Morocco. To me the first H. sapiens remain is still Omo-1, all the rest are whatever (close cousins or distant ones) but not yet “us”. This archaeological identification of the root of our species in the Upper Nile region is also very coincident with what mtDNA genetic reconstruction suggests and with what Y-DNA says… if we exclude A0 and A00, which IMO are “proto-sapiens” lineages introgressed upon the colonization of Central-West Africa.

  4. It means that there was probably only one Out of Africa event– 2.1 million years ago. And Homo is just one species that was– inherently– evolving towards the Homo sapiens level of intelligence– no matter what regions they radiated to. But no member of Homo ever became isolated long enough for genetic speciation to occur.

    Neanderthals were simply a regional subspecies or race that became specifically adapted to Europe’s high latitude glacial environment. And Apidam 1 was probably ancestral to the Neanderthals.

    1. No, sorry. Homo sapiens’ genetics makes absolutely that our species originated in Africa (hence it must have migrated out of Africa independently, we can still see the signature of that bottleneck or founder effect), which is distinct from any archaic branch (i.e. Neanderthals, Denisovans). There were several out-of-Africa migrations in the paleohistory of the genus homo, although only one (of any relevance) in that of Homo sapiens. This Sapiens migration to Asia (and later to Australia, Europe and America from Asia) happened almost certainly between 125.000 and 90.000 years ago in what regards to West Asia (Palestine, Arabia Peninsula) and c. 100.000 to Further Asia (India, China, etc.) for what we can discern in the archaeology, which has improved a lot in the last decade or so in what regards to Asia.

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