Early humans have been traveling across continents for longer than we thought, some 160,000 years longer in Europe’s case.
A broken skull found in a cave in Greece suggests mankind’s African ancestors left the continent 210,000 years ago, according to the journal Nature, which released the findings Monday.
Until now, the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens dated back only about 50,000 years on Europe and 180,000 years on Asia, the journal reported.
Still, the new research doesn’t suggest that the skull predates human remains found in Africa, where the oldest fossils associated with the family that includes modern humans date back more than 2.8 million years.
The new remains simply point to a longer and geographically wider migration story than originally thought.
The early skull was embedded in rock when it was discovered in the Apidima cave in southern Greece in the 1970s. Researchers have only been able to determine its age and species now using modern techniques, Nature reported.
That’s also the case for a younger skull found in the same cave. Research shows it is that of a Neanderthal, a later human cousin, that lived 170,000 years ago.
Katerina Harvati, a palaeoanthropologist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tuebingen, told The Atlantic she couldn’t believe findings about the earlier skull at first “but all the analyses we conducted gave the same result.”
“We’re seeing evidence for human dispersals that are not just limited to one major exodus out of Africa,” she said.
Shara Bailey, an anthropologist at New York University, told The Atlantic that findings like these are important because they inform the evolution of the human species.
The skulls “illustrate that there is much to learn in areas outside of western Europe and the Levant, where most of our research has concentrated,” Bailey said.
“We may find the first anatomically modern humans lacked the kind of advantages that later Homo sapiens may have had”— the very same advantages that led to our “ultimate domination,” Bailey said told The Atlantic.