400,000 year old skull found in Portugal

Posted on March 15, 2017 12:00 am

Scientists have found 400,000-year-old fossil human cranium in Portugal in a study is titled “New Middle Pleistocene hominin cranium from the Gruta da Aroeira (Portugal)” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The research team as under the guidance of Portuguese archaeologist João Zilhão and Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam. Discovery of the skull fragment from nearly half a million years ago points to a previously unknown subspecies of early humans and offers tantalising hints about a possible ancestor of the Neanderthals.The 400,000-year-old fossil was unearthed from a cave site in Portugal in 2014 using ancient stone hand axes, and marks the oldest human cranium fossil ever found in the country.It represents the westernmost human fossil ever found in Europe during the middle Pleistocene epoch and one of the earliest on this continent to be associated with the Acheulean stone tool industry. According to the study, scientists don’t know if it was from a male or female, how the person died, or even what form of early human it was.It has traits that link it to Neanderthals, such as their famous fused brow ridge, as well as some primitive traits that resemble other extinct fossils in Europe.“There is a lot of debate currently in the anthropological literature about what species to call these fossils. There is not a lot of agreement,” said Rolf Quam, an anthropologist, who authored the study with Portuguese archaeologist Joao Zilhao and colleagues.“This is an interesting new fossil discovery from the Iberian Peninsula, a crucial region for understanding the origin and evolution of the Neandertals,” said Quam, an associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Rolf Quam virtual redesign of the Aroeira 3 cranium
Rolf Quam virtual redesign of the Aroeira 3 cranium

“The Aroeira cranium is the oldest human fossil ever found in Portugal and shares some features with other fossils from this same time period in Spain, France and Italy. The Aroeria cranium increases the anatomical diversity in the human fossil record from this time period, suggesting different populations showed somewhat different combinations of features.”In the coming years, experts will dive into the details of the skull and its surroundings “to give a more complete picture of life in the area, life in the cave and the evolutionary place of this human in our ancestry,” said Mr Quam.“The results of this study are only possible thanks to the arduous work of numerous individuals over the last several years,” said Quam. “This includes the archaeologists who have excavated at the site for many years, the preparator who removed the fossil from its surrounding breccia, researchers who CT scanned the specimen and made virtual reconstructions and the anthropologists who studied the fossil. This study truly represents an international scientific collaboration, and I feel fortunate to be involved in this research.”“I have been studying these sites for the last 30 years and we have recovered much important archaeological data, but the discovery of a human cranium of this antiquity and importance is always a very special moment,” said João Zilhão.While reading this research it was clear that scientific advances over the past two decades have underpinned world’s advancing technology and economic growth as well.Me thinks that while the benefits of science are difficult to measure, the findings demonstrated its importance to all people across the world and how we evolved as human beings.

Contador Harrison