The earliest modern humans in Europe were short of
being the complete article, according to a 2006 study of a fossilised
skull from Romania.
The 35,000-year-old cranium was discovered in
Pestera cu Oase, in the west of the country. It shows an
interesting mix of features, according to scientists at the time.
Whilst undeniably a Homo sapiens specimen, it bore some
traits which are normally associated with more ancient species.
The skull was reported in Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. Dr Helene Rougier, from Washington
University in St Louis, USA, and colleagues highlighted the
suggestion raised by the fossil that 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 between 75,000 and 60,000 years
The reconstructed cranium was labelled Oase 2. It
was found in a Late Pleistocene bone bed containing the remains of
cave bears and it 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, reported the team behind the research.
The team pointed out the possibility that the
modern and archaic features could have resulted from interbreeding
between H sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, who were
already in Europe.
But, they added, the fossil may simply also have
been a case of ancient traits reappearing in a modern human (usually
held to be unlikely in any instance), 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, was of the opinion that the ultimate resolution of these
issues would have to wait until more samples were found. Team member
Erik Trinkaus, also of Washington University, commented that the skull,
technically, was that of a modern human, but humans as we know them
today have evolved considerably since then.