Fossils of tools and bones found in a cave in Germany suggest Homo sapiens moved north earlier than previously thought.New archeological discoveries at a cave in Germany suggest that Homo sapiens — our own human species — arrived in cold, northern regions of Europe thousands of years earlier than previous evidence has shown.

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An international team of researchers found fossils of tools and bones at the "Ilsenhöhle” cave in Ranis that show a technological handover from the Neanderthals, our closest but extinct relatives, and early H. sapiens.

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The researchers also looked at animal remains at the site to study our ancestors' diet and the possibility that they lived near or with hibernating, while adpating to cold climates.

They published three studies in Nature journals January 31, 2024.

Ranis tool fossils link Neanderthals and Homo sapiens

The fossils of tools found at the cave were described as having "elongated stone points," partly shaped on both sides — a technology known as partial bifacial blade points. These are characteristic of a "technocomplex" called the Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ).

A technocomplex, such as the LRJ, is a culture that used a specific technology.

Archeologists use traces of different technologies, like stone tools, to track the movement of species, including H. sapiens and Neanderthals.

The LRJ technocomplex is associated with the Neanderthal Middle Paleolithic period, which ranges from about 250,000 to 30,000 years ago, and the Upper Paleolithic period, which ranges from about 50,000 to 10,000 years ago.

The Upper Paleolithic period is when H. sapiens introduced more sophisticated tools, such as those with bifacial leaf points.

That's what has led the researchers to consider these latest findings at Ranis as earlier evidence of local linksbetween H. sapiens and Neanderthals.

Previously, the earliest known H. sapiens remains from northern central and northwestern Europe were about 40,000 years old.

This is significant because the Upper Paleolithic is seen as a time of "transition" when Neanderthals started to disappear and H. sapiens started to spread.

The researchers used ancient DNA and carbon dating methods to analyze the fossils.

Dating Homo sapiens by diet

H. sapiens originated in Africa, but began to migrate 60,000 to 90,000 years ago due to effects of climate change. It took thousands of years for H. sapiens to spread from southern to northern climes through Eurasia.

The most recent research shows the migration of our species in some detail. The researchers write the earliest H. sapiens have been linked to a "stone tool industry" around 43,000 years ago, but that there is also evidence at the Bacho Kiro Cave of earlier groups of the species in Bulgaria between 50-45,000 years ago, and in southeast France as far back as 54,000 years ago.

At Ranis, researchers found evidence of reindeer, woolly rhinoceros and horse, as well as cave bears and denning hyaenas.

When they analyzed data from 52 animal and 10 human remains, they found evidence to "indicate a homogenous human diet based on large terrestrial mammals" — so, not only did our early ancestors live with these animals but they ate them as well, similar to modern day humans.

They used a relatively new technique called paleoproteomics to extract proteins from fossils and determine which bones were human and which were animal.

Paleoproteomics combines molecular biology and paleontology — the study of animal and plant fossils — archaeology and paleoecology — the study of past ecologies — with the study of proteins to explore fundamental questions of life on Earth.

Homo sapiens adapted to colder climates

The researchers say that H. sapiens in northern Europe 45,000 years ago would have faced "subarctic to tundra climatic conditions." The region was much colder than it is now due to the last Ice Age, which lasted until around 11,500 years ago.

They found "evidence for increased fire use" to suggest at least one method of H. sapiens adapting to the cold.

There is too little evidence, the researchers say, to confirm how long H. sapiens remained at a site or whether they passed through on "brief visits."

But they say they can confirm, based on the remains at Ranis that "pioneer groups" of H. sapiens expanded rapidly and had a pronounced ability to adapt to changing environments.

Edited by: Fred Schwaller

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Feb 01, 2024 05:40 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website