24th May 2024
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Oldest European fossil of human ancestor from 1.4 million years ago found in Spain

A jawbone fragment discovered in a mountain range in the region of Castilla y León in northern Spain could be the oldest known fossil of a human ancestor found to date in Europe, Spanish paleontologists said on Friday.

The researchers from the Atapuerca Foundation that runs the archaeological site in the Atapuerca mountain range in the province of Burgos, said in a statement that the fossil found at an archaeological site on 30 June is around 1.4 million years old.

Until now, the oldest hominid fossil found in Europe was a jawbone found at the same site in 2007, which was determined to be 1.2 million years old.

Atapuerca contains one of the richest records of prehistoric human occupation in Europe. Researchers will now be concluding their first estimate for the age of the jawbone fragment using scientific dating techniques, palaeoanthropologist José-Maria Bermudez de Castro, the co-director of the Atapuerca research project, said during a news conference.

But since the jawbone fragment was found some two metres below the layer of earth where the jawbone in 2007 was found, ‘it is logical and reasonable to think it is older’, he said.

The scientific dating of the jawbone fragment will be carried out at the National Centre for Research on Human Evolution in Burgos, located about 10 kilometres from Atapuerca.

The process should take between six to eight months to complete, Bermudez de Castro said. The analysis could help identify which hominid species the jawbone fragment belongs to and better understand the human beings evolved on the European continent.

Scientists have so far been unable to determine with certainty which species the jawbone discovered in 2007 belonged to.

The fossil could correspond to the species called Homo antecessor, discovered in the 1990s.

The Atapuerca Foundation said that is ‘very likely’ that the jawbone fragment ‘belongs to one of the first populations that colonised Europe’.

The archaeological site of Atapuerca was in 2000 included on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, giving it access to United Nations conservation funding.

It contains thousands of hominid fossils and tools including a flint discovered in 2013 that is 1.4 million years old.

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