BELGRADE (Reuters Life!) - A fragment of a human jaw found in Serbia and believed to be up to 250,000 years old is helping anthropologists piece together the story of prehistoric human migration from Africa to Europe.
“This is the earliest evidence we have of humans in the area,” Canada’s Winnipeg University anthropology professor Mirjana Roksandic told Reuters.
The fragment of a lower jaw, complete with three teeth, was discovered in a small cave in the Sicevo gorge in south Serbia.
“It is a pre-Neanderthal jaw that we believe is between 130,000 to 250,000 years old,” said Belgrade University archaeology professor Dusan Mihailovic, head of the team studying the jaw.
“It could help us explain better the human evolution and implications of movements of the population and culture across a large territory,” he said.
Anthropologists believe Africa was the birthplace of man, who then migrated northwards into the Middle East and Europe, possibly in reaction to climate changes.
During the periodic ice ages northern Europe would have been covered in ice, so the theory is these early humans stayed in the easier climate of southern Europe.
The jaw might belong to homo erectus, the first type of human to walk upright, who appeared in Africa 1.8 million years ago and was the precursor of both modern man, or homo sapiens, and the separate species of Neanderthal man.
The jaw was found at a depth of four meters, below a Neanderthal village in a linked cave, one of the richest archaeological sites in the region.
The remains of a hearth, primitive stone and bone tools and animals indicated an 80,000 year old home base.
“What we found there was enough to reconstruct the way of living, changes in culture, climate, vegetation and animal life during a longer period of some 50,000 years,” Mihailovic said.
“The fact we found a jaw so many layers below the settlement is additional proof the jaw is much older.”
Archaeologists started digging deeper initially in the hope of finding more fossil remains.
“We were looking for Neanderthals,” Roksandic said, “but this is much better.”
Neanderthals, viewed as a evolutionary dead-end, died out about 30,000 years ago.
Additional reporting by Tanja Cvekic, Editing by Ellie Tzortzi and Matthew Jones