A 400 000 years old skull reveals the origins of Neanderthal

The discovery in Portugal of a fossilized hominid skull dating back 400 000 years could help to elucidate the origin of the Neanderthals. These ancestors of homo sapiens disappeared about 30 000 years ago.

The discovered fossil represents the oldest hominid skull found in the Iberian Peninsula, which “ is an important contribution to the understanding of human evolution during the so-called Middle Pleistocene period in Europe and especially the origin of the Neanderthals “, Say members of the international team of researchers.

The history of the evolution of human ancestors in Europe during this period was very controversial because of the rarity and uncertain fossil dating that ranged from 200,000 to more than 400,000 years ago. The age of this skull could be established more precisely thanks to the dating of the sediments and stalagmites in which it was trapped.

“ This new fossil is very interesting because this region of Europe is crucial for understanding the origins and evolution of the Neanderthal man, “ says Rolf Quam, an assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University in New York and one of the co-authors of this discovery.

This fossil is also one of the oldest on the European continent to be directly linked to tools of Acheulean culture which began to spread in Europe 500 000 years ago. The skull of Aroeira was found near a large number of these stone tools including bifaces (small axes).

Found in 2014 trapped in a block of stone, the skull was transported to the laboratory of the Institute of Paleoanthropology in Madrid, Spain, for the delicate extraction operations that lasted two years.

“ I have been studying these sites for thirty years and have been able to recover important archaeological data, but the discovery of a skull of the human line as old and of such great importance is always a highlight,“ pointed the Portuguese archaeologist Joao Zilhao. This new fossil will be at the center of an exhibition on human evolution next October at the National Museum of Archeology in Lisbon, Portugal.

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