The oldest evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe previously placed the first humans on the continent between 45,000 to 41,500 years ago. Now, new evidence discovered in a cave in Bulgaria shows that humans may have walked the area as far back as 46,000 years ago.
A team of researchers found the heavily fragmented fossils in Bulgaria’s Bacho Kiro Cave. Except for a single tooth, most of the remains were too shattered to be immediately identified as human, but after extracting proteins from the bones and analyzing their building block structure, the pieces were confirmed to have come from Homo sapiens. Mitochondrial DNA also confirmed the finding and helped date the bones.
The findings suggest that an African H. sapiens reached the Middle East approximately 50,000 years ago and quickly dispersed in Europe and Central Asia. Even more intriguing, the stone tools and ornaments, including bear tooth pendants, found with the fossils seems to be the earliest example of the carving style called the Initial Upper Paleolithic culture.
11,000 animal bone fragments, from 23 different species, were also unearthed at Bacho Kiro, including bison, red deer, cave bears, and goats. The way these bones were treated gives scientists insights into the dietary habits of early humans. Researchers believe these early migrants into modern-day Bulgaria faced high numbers of Neanderthals and climate fluctuations which ultimately killed off human populations in the area.
While their life in the area appears to have been short-lived, this new discovery offers exciting new evidence into the history of our species.