While working in a Bulgarian cave called Bacho Kiro, archaeologists made a huge discovery when they unearthed the earliest evidence of modern humans living in Europe.
Two research teams unearthed bones and teeth inside of the cave. When they analyzed the remains, they found that some of the bones were from animals such as deer and bison, but some also belonged to ancient Homo sapiens. In fact, they found that the remains belonged to seven humans and they were even able to extract DNA from six of them. Tools that were created from animals bones were also found at the cave site. Pictures can be seen here.
Additionally, they found that the ancient humans hunted deer and bison and they used the animals’ teeth (especially those from cave bears) to make jewelry as well as ornaments – a craft known to have been practiced by Neanderthals. “There are some similarities in manufacturing techniques used by Homo sapiens at Bacho Kiro and Neanderthals elsewhere, which makes clear there was cultural transmission going on between the two groups,” stated Professor Shara Bailey who is an anthropologist at New York University as well as a co-author of the study which can be read in full here. Another study was published and can be read here.
Another author of the study, Professor Jean-Jacques Hublin, who is from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, weighed in by stating, “Several of the artifacts have red staining that is consistent with the use of ochre,” adding, “We identified 1 perforated ivory bead and 12 perforated or grooved pendants, 11 of which were made from cave bear teeth and 1 from an ungulate tooth.”
What’s even more incredible is that this discovery proves that modern humans arrived in Europe approximately 45,000 years ago, meaning that they co-existed with Neanderthals for several thousands of years.
In an interview with The Times, Hublin stated, “Now we see there is a period of about 8,000 years between the first modern humans putting their feet in eastern Europe and the extinction of the last Neanderthal in the far west of the continent,” adding, “Eight thousand years is a long time. Long enough for a lot of interactions between these populations in terms of biology, but also in terms of cultural diffusion from one group to another.”
Whether the arrival of modern humans directly caused the extinction of Neanderthals remains highly debatable. Dr. William Banks, who is from the University of Bordeaux but was not involved in the study, has his own opinion, “The results summarized and discussed are important because we as archaeologists ultimately wish to understand the population and cultural dynamics implicated in the observed disappearance of Neanderthal populations in Europe around 40,000 – 39,000 years ago.” He went on to state, “These new results from Bacho Kiro provide us with an important piece of the puzzle, but many still remain to be put in place.”