Homo sapiens have been migrating around the earth for thousands of years. Southeast Europe, specifically, has been considered a major route of dispersal. It was hypothesized that the human fossils obtained from this area would be more diverse than more isolated regions of Europe. Until recently, the extent of diversity has remained elusive due to the lack of paleoanthropological finds.
In the 1970s, two skulls were uncovered supporting this theory. Retrieved from the Apidima Cave in Greece, Apidima 1 dates back to 210 thousand years ago and Apidima 2 dates back to 170 thousand years ago. Researchers have virtually reconstructed both fossils and elucidated their chronology despositional history.
Apidima 2 exhibits classic Neanderthal-like features (think strong, continous brow bone), and Apidima 1 has been thought to display similar features. After perfoming comparative analyses, the researchers found that this was not the case. In fact, Apidima 1 displays no Neanderthal-like features. Indeed, it has features more common to the modern human.
What does this mean? Well, this is now the oldest known presence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia. And, what does that mean?? It suggets that humans began dispersing out of Africa much earlier than previously theorized. This new evidence opens up new avenues of investigation and underscores the importance of this geographical region for a deeper understanding of human fossil record.
Harvati, K., et al., Apidima Cave fossils provide earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia. Nature, 2019. Nature paper can be found here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1376-z#author-information