In the Bulgarian cave of Bacho Kiro, archaeologists have discovered the oldest remains of modern man on the European continent. It turned out that representatives of Homo sapiens came to Europe, where Neanderthals lived before, 45 thousand years ago. A description of the discovery and the results of the radiocarbon dating of the finds are published in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution.
At the turn of the middle and upper Paleolithic, representatives of Homo sapiens entered Europe and, within a few thousand years, completely replaced the Neanderthals who lived there before. However, the exact time of this event remained unclear, and the finds related to the so-called initial upper Paleolithic were practically absent.
In the 1970s, Paleolithic fossils were found in the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria, presumably dating back to the very beginning of the upper Paleolithic, but later the specimens were lost. In 2015, repeated excavations began, which led to the discovery of the oldest remains of modern humans on the European continent.
Scientists found many small fragments of bones, which could not be determined by the species, and one molar, which, according to scientists, belonged to Homo sapiens. And here, modern methods came to the aid of archaeologists.
Using the method of mass spectrometry, scientists analyzed the protein sequences of bone remains and found out that they belong to a reasonable person.
“Most Pleistocene bones are so fragmented that it is impossible to determine what species they represent by eye,” said Frido Welker, one of the study’s authors, in a press release from the Max Planck Institute for evolutionary anthropology. — However, proteins differ slightly in their amino acid sequence from species to species. Thus, using protein mass spectrometry, we can quickly identify these bone samples.”
Using a combination of radiocarbon dating methods and mitochondrial DNA sequencing, the researchers determined the age of the remains – from 45,820 to 43,650 years. These are the earliest upper Paleolithic hominins found so far in Europe.
In addition to human remains, archaeologists have found a large number of stone tools, as well as artifacts from the bones of 23 different animal species, including symbolic items such as pendants made from the teeth of cave bears, shaped like jewelry found in later Neanderthal sites in the South of modern France. From this, researchers conclude that Neanderthals adopted habits and technologies from Homo sapiens.
“Whatever the cognitive level of late Neanderthals, the Bacho Kiro cave material supports the view that specific behavioral innovations observed in declining Neanderthal populations were the result of contact with Homo sapiens,” the authors write.
“The initial upper Paleolithic finds in the Bacho-Kiro cave are the earliest known in Europe. It represents a new way of making stone tools and personal jewelry, different from what we know from Neanderthals before this time, — says another author of the study, Tsenka Tsanova from the Department of human evolution of the Max Planck Institute for evolutionary anthropology. “Modern man, which probably originated in Southwest Asia, quickly spread from Bulgaria to Mongolia in the upper Paleolithic, influenced archaic populations of Neanderthals and Denisovans, and eventually replaced them.”