By Eva-Maria Geigl & Thierry Grange/The Conversation
How did our species, Homo sapiens, arrive in Western Europe? Published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, our new study analyses two skull fragments dating back between 37,000 and 36,000 years to conclude that our ancestors came from Eastern Europe and migrated westwards. These two individuals interbred with Neanderthals and with the very first European Homo sapiens, who arrived around 45,000 years ago and were thought to have become extinct following a major climatic catastrophe.
Together with lithic tools and pierced mammoth ivory beads, small skull fragments of the two skulls found in 2009 at an archaeological site in the Crimea, Buran Kaya III, bear witness to the presence of anatomically modern humans in Eastern Europe. Working with French and Ukrainian archaeologists, we were able to put in place a sampling protocol that took special precautions to prevent the fragments from being contaminated by modern human DNA and identify their ancient DNA.
The resulting analysis enabled us to generate a broad, up-to-date model of population movements, interactions and replacements as they settled in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic, the period from around -40,000 to -12,000 years ago characterized by the expansion of anatomically modern humans around the world. These individuals are the oldest representatives of Western Europeans to have established themselves permanently in Europe and to have left traces in the genomes of present-day…