Jawbone Discovered in England is First Human in Europe



An international team of scientists recently made a discovery that’s significant to the history of humans.

The team found a piece of a jawbone from a prehistoric cave in England. The bone, which was first thought to be about 35,000 years old, is between 41,000 and 44,000 years old. It is believed to be the first documented evidence of modern humans in Europe.

The information appears in the journal Nature.

This finding will enable scientists to pinpoint how modern humans spread throughout Europe during the last Ice Age. It also reaffirms the belief that modern humans and Neanderthals lived at the same point for a brief period.

Beth Shapiro, the Shaffer Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State University and part of the research team, said the jawbone was found in 1927 in a prehistoric limestone cave in the southwestern part of England.

When the jawbone was dated to be 35,000 years old in 1989, there were some researchers who questioned the age of the jawbone. The questions stemmed from the glue used to conserve the bone, so more testing was required to get a better reading on when the jawbone was actually from.

The researchers looked through excavation archives to find animal bones that were discovered above and below the place where this jawbone was discovered. This would provide the researchers with a clearer understanding of when the jawbone was from.

These animals bones, which varied from all sorts of animals, including wolves, deer, bears and wooly rhinoceros, were thought to be around 26,000 to 50,000 years old. To confirm the age of this human jawbone, the team used the Bayesian statistical-modeling method and was able to confirm the jawbone to be about 41,000 to 44,000 years old.

Maxila studies of ancient humans have been going on for about 10 years but the most recent investigative and dating techniques were necessary to determine the age of this particular jawbone.

In addition to Shapiro, Tom Higham, deputy director of Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelrator Unit, Tim Compton of the Natural History Museum in England, other members of the research team include Chris Stringer, Roger Jacobi, and Chris Collins of the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom; Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in the United States; Barry Chandler of the Torquay Museum in the United Kingdom; Flora Gröning, Paul O’Higgins, and Michael Fagan of the University of Hull in the United Kingdom; Simon Hillson of University College London in the United Kingdom; and Charles FitzGerald of McMaster University in Canada.