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Ancient 400,000-Year-Old Human Skull Found In Portugal With Animal Bones, Stone Tools

15 March 2017, 7:39 am EDT By Anne Baker Tech Times
A study published on March 13 reveals that a 400,000 year old human skull discovered in Portugal is the oldest human skull on Earth. The skull was discovered along with stone made hand axes, human teeth and animal bones.  ( Javier Trueba )

A 400,000-year-old skull unearthed in Portugal may has been touted as the oldest human skull on Earth by a study.

A large team of researchers lead by João Zilhão, a Portuguese archaeologist and Rolf Quam, an anthropologist with Binghamton University discovered the skull, making the event an important part of history of human evolution.

The hominin skull reportedly has a few telltale features which suggest that it falls more in the Neanderthal category than the Homo Sapiens one. The skull was discovered in a Portuguese cave and is now used by the anthropologists to determine how hominins, Neanderthals in particular evolved during the middle Pleistocene epoch in Europe.

Along with the skull the researchers also discovered stone made hand axes, animal remains and human teeth.

Prize Find In Portuguese Caves

The skull is the only representative of the western-most human fossil to be ever discovered in Europe. Compared to other skulls hailing from the same time period, which were dated poorly or lacked a clear archaeological context, this skull was properly dated  - ranging back to 400,000 years.

"This is an interesting new fossil discovery from the Iberian Peninsula, a crucial region for understanding the origin and evolution of the Neandertals," said Quam.

He further added that the cranium which was founded in the cave of Aroeira is the oldest human fossil that has been excavated till date, and has some common features with other fossils from the same time period found in Spain, Italy and France. 

Quam also said that with the discovery of the Aroeria skull, the anatomical diversity of human fossil records of that time period have increased to a great extent. It suggests that different populations of ancient humans displayed somewhat different combinations of features amongst themselves.

Discovery Of The Skull

The skull was discovered by the team buried at the back of the cave firmly cemented to the sediments containing the cranium.

"The archaeologists, when they found it, weren't sure how to get it out. They basically had to use a circular saw to cut out a huge block chunk that included the skull," said Quam to Live Science.

The skull was then moved to entro de Investigacion sobre la Evolucion y Comportamiento Humanos, a restoration laboratory and paleoanthropology research center in Marid, Spain. The extraction of the skull from the cemented block took two years to complete as it was a tough and difficult process.

The skull will be publicly exhibited in the human evolution section of Museu Nacional de Arqueologia in Lisbon, Portugal in October this year.

The study has been published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences under the title "New Middle Pleistocene hominin cranium from the Gruta da Aroeira (Portugal)" on March 13.

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