The earliest modern humans in Europe were short of being the
complete article, according to a study of a fossilised skull from
The 35,000-year-old cranium discovered in Pestera cu Oase in the
west of the country shows an interesting mix of features, say
Whilst undeniably a Homo sapiens specimen, it has some traits
normally associated with more ancient species.
The skull was reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of
Dr Helene Rougier, from Washington University in St Louis, USA,
and colleagues say the fossil suggests the first modern humans to
enter Europe continued to evolve after they had settled.
H. sapiens is thought to have emerged in Africa more than 150,000
years ago before spreading out of the continent and arriving in
Europe less than 50,000 years ago.
The reconstructed cranium - known as Oase 2 and found in a Late
Pleistocene bone bed containing the remains of cave bears - comes
from the earliest stages of the occupation.
In addition to its large face and retreating forehead, the
specimen has the largest cheek teeth so far known for an otherwise
anatomically modern human, the team reports.
The scientists say the mixture of modern and archaic features
could have resulted from interbreeding between H. sapiens and the
older Neanderthal humans (Homo neanderthalensis) who were already
But, they add, the fossil may simply also be a case of ancient
traits reappearing in a modern human, or even an indication that
science has not yet been able to study enough early modern people to
fully understand their diversity.
Co-author Joao Zilhao of the University of Bristol, in England, said:
"The ultimate resolution of these issues must await considerations
of larger samples of European early modern humans and
chronologically intervening specimens."
And team member Erik Trinkaus, also of Washington University,
commented: "I think that what this find really shows is the ongoing
nature of human evolution. Technically, this skull is a modern
human, but humans as we know them today have evolved considerably