The first Europeans crossed the Alps more than 45,000 years ago

In the Ilsenhöhle In the town of Ranis (Germany), below the castle of the same name, fossils were found homo sapiens oldest known in Central Europe. These remains were recovered in two excavation campaigns: one from the 1930s and another more recent from 2016 to 2022. Three studies were published in the journals this week Nature And Natural ecology and evolution on these primarily radiocarbon-dated materials have linked both sample collections.

Describe these works Diet, lifestyle and environmental conditions to which these populations were exposed, and also provide the earliest evidence of the spread of the homo sapiens in the highest latitudes of Europe around 45,000 years ago. This is an important finding because it suggests that modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped for an extended period of time, which has implications for their interaction and why Neanderthals disappeared soon after.

“With our results we can now show that the H. sapiens was able to advance from Southwest Asia – a subtropical region – to the cold steppes of Europe in just a few thousand years. “This is happening much faster than originally thought and is changing our view of what these people were capable of,” he told SINC. Sarah Pederzani, lead author of one of the studies and co-author of the other two at the University of La Laguna. He is currently conducting research at the University of Utah (USA).

With our results we can now show that H. sapiens was able to penetrate from southwest Asia into the cold steppes of Europe in just a few thousand years.

Sarah Pederzani, University of La Laguna

Late Neanderthals lived in Western Europe several thousand years after the arrival of modern humans Eastern Europe and sometimes there was intermingling between the two groups. It was not yet known who was responsible Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ) industry – a type of stone tool industry – from northwestern and central Europe, but both Neanderthals and modern humans were candidates.

Sarah Pederzani during chemical preparation and cleaning, after which very small samples are loaded for isotope study.  / Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Sarah Pederzani during chemical preparation and cleaning, after which very small samples are loaded for isotope study. / Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

First set of tools homo sapiens

The first of these studies focused precisely on locating other deposits that remained unexplored during excavations in the 1930s in order to clarify the stratigraphy and chronology of the site. “The challenge was to excavate the entire eight meter sequence in the hope that some deposits from this decade would remain. We were lucky to find a 1.7 meter thick rock that previous excavators had not been able to overcome. After removing it by hand.” “We eventually uncovered layers of LRJ industry and even found human fossils. It was a big surprise,” he says. Marcel Weissa scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who co-led this work.

Jean Jacques HublinDirector Emeritus of the Max Planck Institute, adds: “Some of the stone artifacts thought to have been made by Neanderthals were actually part of the Max Planck Institute’s first toolbox homo sapiens. “This changes what we know about this period and shows that they arrived in northwestern Europe long before the Neanderthals disappeared in the southwest.”

Some of the stone artifacts thought to have been made by Neanderthals were actually part of Homo sapiens’ first toolbox.

Jean-Jacques Hublin, Director Emeritus of the Max Planck Institute,

The results suggest that pioneering groups of early humans spread rapidly across northern Europe. “From the perspective of the evolutionary development of homo sapiensit is extraordinary that our species could have spread all over the world and thrive in any type of environment while other hominids disappeared. “For this reason, a big question in paleoanthropology is how and when this ability to adapt to new environments evolved,” says Pederzani.

The first “Homo sapiens” processed the corpses of deer, but also of carnivores, including the wolf.  / Geoff M Smith

The first “Homo sapiens” processed the corpses of deer, but also of carnivores, including the wolf. / Geoff M Smith

New human remains

In addition to these new excavations, the team conducted analyzes of bone fragments from the ancient Ranis collection of the Saxony-Anhalt State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology in Germany. The bones were examined individually to identify possible human remains.

“This meticulous work was rewarded with the discovery of several new human bones,” he says. Helene Rougier, a paleoanthropologist at California State University, Northridge, USA, who is involved in this other work. These fossils appeared to be mixed with animal bones that had been stored for nearly a century. “It was an unexpected and fantastic surprise,” says the researcher.

This painstaking work was rewarded with the discovery of several new human bones.

Hélène Rougier, paleoanthropologist

The thousands of small bone fragments were analyzed based on their morphology, but also through molecular studies of proteomics and genetics. After the 13 human bone remains from the old and new excavations were identified, DNA was extracted from these fossils and analyzed. Sequencing showed they all belonged homo sapiens. The age was determined by Radiocarbon dating.

All of the material the scientists worked with is between 48,000 and 38,000 years old, and the majority is thought to be between 48,000 and 43,000 years old. This work also included the study of human remains for taxonomic, genetic and dietary identity, and the analysis of animal remains for climatic and ecological reconstruction as well as traces of hunting and human slaughter.

Resistant to very cold temperatures

The study led by Pederzani used stable isotope analysis on humans and animals to study their diets and environments. Through this technique they were able to find out that they lived there a cold steppe environment very similar to today’s northwestern Russia. However, they do not know how they managed to withstand these adverse conditions.

“This is one of the big questions that arises from our findings. In a way, we have opened a door to new knowledge, so we now know that these people adapted to cold environments earlier than we thought, but we are only at the beginning of understanding how they did this. “Therefore, in the future it will be important to study, for example, the seasonal movements or use of fire of these human groups in order to understand it better.”

In a way, we have opened a door to new knowledge, so we now know that these people adapted to cold environments earlier than we thought.

Sarah Pederzani

Until recently, it was thought that resistance to cold climatic conditions only began several thousand years later. “From our study, we learned that the human groups we discovered in Ranis only had a temporary impact on the site. They probably lived in small groups and alone They visited the cave for a short time Time expenditure, perhaps because they moved frequently between locations. “In addition, we studied their diet and found that they fed mainly on various large and medium-sized herbivores such as reindeer and horses,” concludes Pederzani.

References:

Jean-Jacques Hublin et al. “Homo sapiens reached the higher latitudes of Europe 45,000 years ago” Nature.

Sarah Pederzani et al. “Stable isotopes show that Homo sapiens spread into cold steppes around 45,000 years ago in the Ilsenhöhle in Ranis, Germany.” Natural ecology and evolution

Geoff M Smith et al. “Ecology, livelihood and nutrition of the approximately 45,000 year old Homo sapiens in the Ilsenhöhle in Ranis, Germany” Natural ecology and evolution

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