400000 Years Old Human Skull Points To Mystery Neanderthal

Posted: Mar 15 2017, 4:56am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 15 2017, 9:49am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

400000 Year Old Skull Points to Mystery Neanderthal Ancestor
A large international research team, directed by the Portuguese archaeologist João Zilhão and including Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam, has found the oldest fossil human cranium, nicknamed "Aroeira 3," in Portugal, marking an important contribution to knowledge of human evolution during the middle Pleistocene in Europe and to the origin of the Neandertals. Credit: Javier Trueba
  • 400,000 Year Old Skull may Point to the Most Original of Neanderthals

A 400,000 year old cranium found in Portugal may point to the most original of Neanderthals.

A huge group of scientists and experts has found the oldest relics of Neanderthals in Portugal. This has added to the knowledge base regarding human evolution. The fossil was in the form of a cranium and it belonged to the Pleistocene Era.

Scientists were able to carbon date it to 400,000 years ago in the past. It is a rare find indeed. It belonged to a proper primitive culture since the fossils of animals and tools made of stone and bone were found in the whereabouts surrounding it. The skull shares some features with other fossils found in Italy, France and Spain.

"This is an interesting new fossil discovery from the Iberian Peninsula, a crucial region for understanding the origin and evolution of the Neandertals," said Quam, an associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

"The Aroeira cranium is the oldest human fossil ever found in Portugal and shares some features with other fossils from this same time period in Spain, France and Italy. The Aroeria cranium increases the anatomical diversity in the human fossil record from this time period, suggesting different populations showed somewhat different combinations of features."

Found in 2014, the cranium was firmly imbedded in sediment and had to be removed from the quarry en bloc. It was then sent to a lab where it was prepared and removed from the surrounding matter. It was a labor of love and a very backbreaking task since it required relentless hard work. Two years later, the skull was ready for display.

The fruits of finding this skull have been made possible thanks to teamwork done by a number of experts and researchers. They all pooled their resources and made the impossible possible. Among these were archaeologists who worked at the site incessantly.

Also researchers performed CT scans on the skull. While the rest of the remains of fauna discovered at the site were an interesting find, this one was the most surprising one of them all.

"The results of this study are only possible thanks to the arduous work of numerous individuals over the last several years," said Quam.

"This includes the archaeologists who have excavated at the site for many years, the preparator who removed the fossil from its surrounding breccia, researchers who CT scanned the specimen and made virtual reconstructions and the anthropologists who studied the fossil. This study truly represents an international scientific collaboration, and I feel fortunate to be involved in this research."

"I have been studying these sites for the last 30 years and we have recovered much important archaeological data, but the discovery of a human cranium of this antiquity and importance is always a very special moment," said Zilhão.

The new fossil will go on display in a human evolution exhibition that will be held in October at the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia in Lisbon, Portugal.

To find a human skull among other things was indeed a wonderful opportunity for the archaeologists and researchers who worked on this project. This novel fossil will go a long way towards satisfying our thirst for knowledge regarding our ancient past as a species.

The study, titled "New Middle Pleistocene hominin cranium from the Gruta da Aroeira (Portugal)," published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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