Fossil Hints at Hominids' European Stall
Bower, Bruce, Science News
Excavations at an archaeological site in the nation of Georgia have yielded a fossil jaw that, according to its discoverers, represents the earliest known evidence of human ancestors in that region of Asia -- and perhaps anywhere outside Africa.
The well-preserved lower jaw, complete with all of its teeth, belonged to a Homo erectus individual who lived between about 1.8 million and 1.6 million years ago, assert Leo Gabunia and A. Vekua, both anthropologists at the Georgian Academy of Sciences in Tblisi.
If this age estimate holds up, it suggests that a substantial delay occurred before human ancestors moved from western Asia into Europe. Prior studies place the human occupation of Europe at no earlier than 500,000 years ago (SN: 10/8/94, p.235).
"[This] suggests that humans either waited outside the `gates to Europe' for more than 1 million years or inhabited the subcontinent at a very low density during that interval," Gabunia and Vekua conclude in the Feb. 9 NATURE.
The new fossil came to light at Dmanisi, a settlement that achieved regional prominence between 1,200 and 800 years ago. After excavations began in 1981, researchers noted that the bones of now-extinct animals dot the walls of deep pits once used for grain storage. In 1991, the exploration of one such pit turned up this jaw of a hominid, or member of the human evolutionary family.
The specimen contains small teeth attached to relatively thick bone, the scientists say. …