Ancient Roads to Europe: African Ancestors May Have Entered Europe Surprisingly Early

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, January 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Ancient Roads to Europe: African Ancestors May Have Entered Europe Surprisingly Early


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Southeastern Spain's Iberian peninsula features vast, rolling stretches of sun-soaked soil that share a haunting beauty with desolate landscapes in eastern Africa. Josep Gibert, a paleontologist based in northern Spain at the M. Crusafont Institute in Barcelona, ventured into the peninsula's parched heart 20 years ago hoping to unearth ancient animal bones from a dried-up lake bed near the Andalusian village of Orce (pronounced oar-say).

Gibert found what he came for-and much more. Bone fragments and stone implements discovered since 1982 at three Orce sites indicate that human ancestors lived there as many as 1.8 million years ago, he says. If preliminary dates for this material hold up, Orce will contain the remains of Europe's oldest known members of the human evolutionary family, or hominids.

In fact, the sites would represent the European counterpart of eastern Africa's Olduvai Gorge, where scientists generally agree that hominids lived beginning around 1.8 million years ago.

Such antiquity-combined with evidence from other archaeological sites-would imply that African hominids could have taken any of several paths to Europe. Although usually thought to have traversed a land route running north from the Middle East and then westward across territory bordering the Mediterranean Sea or regions farther inland, they may have traveled across the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa or across the Bosporus Strait from Turkey.

Gibert's findings first reached a worldwide scientific audience in September 1995 at the International Congress of Human Paleontology, held in Orce. Since then, the Spanish discoveries have attracted great interest and spirited controversy. Much debate revolves around whether Gibert possesses sufficient data to pin such an advanced age on the Orce finds.

Scientists excavating sites in northern Spain's Atapuerca Mountains (SN: 8/12/95, p. 100), for example, suspect that hominids arrived at Orce and other parts of southern Europe more recently, approximately 1 million years ago. In addition, the fragmentary Orce fossils attributed to hominids by Gibert actually belonged to wild horses, the Atapuerca researchers argue.

Remarks Derek Roe of the University of Oxford, who independently examined the Orce sites and artifacts in 1993: "At this point, we can't prove or disprove the possibility that hominids occupied Orce 1.8 million years ago, but there's good evidence that they reached southern Spain by around 1 million years ago. That in itself is a new and unexpected element in European prehistory."

Orce's increased international visibility comes at a time of heightened receptivity to the notion that hominids trekked from Africa to Europe and Asia long before the appearance of modern Homo sapiens, which many researchers place at about 200,000 years ago. Asian hominid remains have been dated to 1.8 million years ago on the Indonesian island of Java (SN: 3/5/94, p. 150) and at Dmanisi in central Asia (SN: 2/11/95, p. 85) and to 1.9 million years ago at Longgupo cave in China (SN: 11/18/95, p. 327).

Doubts have emerged about these proposed early Asian arrivals, however. Age estimates at Java and Dmanisi come from sediment lying below the hominid finds, and further work will probably yield later dates, some scientists contend. Moreover, others maintain that Longgupo's fossils and artifacts cannot confidently be attributed to hominids.

Disputes have also arisen in regard to proposed early hominid sites in Europe-particularly those in Orce.

Everyone agrees that the three excavation sites deserve much further study. The Andalusian government issued no permits for scientific work at Orce in 1996, but three research teams have filed applications to conduct extended work there beginning later this year. Gibert heads one of those groups; another is coordinated by Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands; and Alain Turq, an archaeologist at France's National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies de Tayac, directs a third team. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ancient Roads to Europe: African Ancestors May Have Entered Europe Surprisingly Early
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.