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5 May 2009
Face of the first European reconstructed by scientists

Forensic artist Richard Neave used skull and jawbone fragments found in a cave to build the face of the first anatomically-modern human to live in Europe. It belonged to a man - or woman - who inhabited the ancient forests of the Carpathian Mountains in what is now Romania about 35,000 years ago.
     The artist's reconstruction - a face that could be male or female - is based on the partial skull and jawbone found in a cave where bears were known to hibernate. The facial features indicate the close affinity of these early Europeans to their immediate African ancestors, although it was still not possible to determine the person's sex.
     Richard Neave, the forensic artist who reconstructed the facial features in a clay model, based his assessment on a careful measurement of the bone fragments and his long experience of how the soft tissues of the face are built around the bones of the skull. The reconstruction was made for the forthcoming BBC 2 series The Incredible Human Journey which documents human origins and evolution. It is impossible from the bones to determine the skin colour of the individual, although scientists speculate it was probably darker than modern-day Europeans, reflecting a more recent African origin.
     "It's really quite bizarre. I'm a scientist and objective, but I look at that face and think 'Gosh, I'm actually looking at the face of somebody from 40,000 years ago', and there's something weirdly moving about that," said Alice Roberts, the Bristol University anthropologist who will introduce the BBC series.
     Potholers discovered the lower jawbone of the first modern European in 2002 in Pestera cu Oase, the "cave with bones", located in the south-western Carpathians. The remaining fragments of skull were unearthed in 2003. Scientists have dated the bones using radiocarbon analysis to between 34,000 and 36,000 years ago when Europe was occupied by both Neanderthal man, who had lived in the region for tens of thousands of years, and anatomically-modern humans - Homo sapiens - who had recently arrived on a migratory route from Africa via the Middle East.
     Although the skull shares many modern feature of human anatomy, it also displays more archaic traits, such as very large molar teeth, which led some scientists to speculate the skull may belong to a hybrid between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals - an idea discounted by other experts.

Source: The Independent (4 May 2009)

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