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24 December 2014
Tool suggests humans entered Europe much earlier than thought

A stone knife found at a prehistoric gateway into Europe could force anthropologists to rewrite theories about how our human ancestors first arrived on the continent. Archaeologists discovered the sharp stone tool at an ancient site on the Gediz river, to the east of Izmir, on the Anatolian peninsula of Turkey. They believe the quartzite tool was made around 1.2 million years ago, meaning early humans were in the area far earlier than previously believed.
     The earliest human remains to be discovered so far in Europe are 1.2 million-year-old bone fragments from the extinct Homo antecessor at Atapuerca, Spain. The spread of human ancestors has been a controversial subject and has led to competing theories of how humans evolved. An extinct species of human, called Homo antecessor, is thought to have been living in Atapuerca, Spain, at least 1.2 million years ago. Footprints attributed to Homo antecessor have also been found in Happisburgh in Norfolk.
However, the discovery of stone tools in western Turkey could mean that another species, Homo erectus, whose remains have been found at sites nearby, could have also moved into Europe at around the same time.
     Researchers from Royal Holloway University of London, now believe the discovery of the stone tool supports claims that Anatolia was occupied by these human ancestors 1.2 million years ago. Professor Danielle Schreve, from the department of geography, said: "This discovery is critical for establishing the timing and route of early human dispersal into Europe. Our research suggests the flake is the earliest securely-dated artefact from Turkey ever recorded and was dropped on the floodplain by an early hominin well over a million years ago. The dating of the flake suggests that the maker would have been Homo erectus, which is widely believed to have evolved in Africa and then spread into Eurasia by 2 million years. There is also a partial skull of Homo erectus from the site of Kocabas in Turkey - this particular site has been re-dated several times, with dates from around half a million to just over a million years old, so the new evidence from the Gedix River really firms up our knowledge of chronology of early human occupation in Turkey."
     The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, used high-precision radioisotopic dating and palaeomagnetic measurements from lava flows above and below the sediment where the stone was found, at a site known as Kale Tepe. This allowed the researchers to establish that early humans were present in the area between approximately 1.24 million and 1.17 million years ago.
     "There are a handful of sites in southern Europe - Spain, Italy and southern France - that have produced artefacts dating to around 1.2 million years. However, the dating of these sites is very controversial in many cases, or the stone tools are not clearly associated with the dated deposits, which makes it difficult to make meaningful observations as to the timing and route of dispersal of early humans. The key point regarding the new flake from Turkey is that it comes from river sediments that are sandwiched between volcanic deposits, which can be securely dated using two very robust methods, Argon-Argon dating and palaeomagnetism," Professor Schreve said.

Edited from Mail Online (23 December 2014)

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