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Human fossil: Probably the oldest European discovered

What is believed to be the oldest human bone ever found in Europe was discovered at an excavation site in Atapuerca, Spain. The facial bone fragment is estimated to be 1.4 million years old.

Researchers have discovered what may be the oldest human remains ever found in Europe in northern Spain.

The Atapuerca Foundation, which has been organizing excavations in the municipality of the same name in the province of Burgos since 1978, said the age of a fragment of a facial bone around ten centimeters long was estimated at around 1.4 million years. The find was made on June 30th at the Sima del Elefante archaeological site. A human jaw around 1.2 million years old was excavated there in 2007 and was thought to be the oldest human fossil found in Europe.

The first age estimate of the new find now has to be confirmed by investigations, said the co-director of the foundation, José Maria Bermúdez de Castro. But the facial bone was “found two meters below the layer in which the jaw was located”. Therefore, it is “logical and reasonable” to assume an older age.

Dating takes six to eight months

The dating should now take between six to eight months. The study could also show which species prehistoric man belonged to, according to the Atapuerca Foundation.This in turn could lead to a better understanding of how humans evolved on the European continent.

Until now, paleontologists have not been able to determine with certainty which human species the jaw, discovered in 2007, belonged to.

It is thought to be the remains of a Homo antecessor, a species discovered and named in the 1990s. “It is very likely that the new Sima del Elefante fossil is related to this jaw and belongs to one of the first populations to colonize Europe,” said the Atapuerca Foundation. “If this is the case, we can finally determine the identity of the Sima del Elefante human species.” The extraordinarily rich archaeological sites in the Sierra de Atapuerca mountain range have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. Thousands of human fossils and tools have been unearthed there, including a polished flint found in 2013 that is 1.4 million years old.