TechAncient stone tools in Ukraine suggest earlier human settlement in Europe

Ancient stone tools in Ukraine suggest earlier human settlement in Europe

Interesting discovery in Ukraine - a stock photo.
Interesting discovery in Ukraine - a stock photo.
Images source: © Licensor | Biface, CC0, Raw Pixel

11:23 AM EST, March 8, 2024

Found in Korolev, these ancient stone tools, fashioned from volcanic rocks, were unearthed from quarries in the 1970s. Thanks to modern dating methods, scientists have determined that the sediment layers encasing the tools are 1.4 million years old.
"This marks the earliest evidence of humans in Europe," said Mads Faurschou Knudsen, a geophysicist at Aarhus University in Denmark and co-author of the study, who further speculated that Homo erectus, the first of our ancestors known to walk upright, likely manufactured these tools.
The findings were detailed in the journal Nature.
Long ago, our predecessors crafted simple knives and scrapers by striking stones against each other, mirroring techniques used by their African forebears. These tools, found alongside other artifacts at the Korolev site, were likely used to cut meat or scrape remnants from animal skins.
The study's authors contend that the discovered tools, dating back 1.4 million years, provide crucial insights into the timing and nature of the first human migration into Europe. It's believed these were the tools of Homo erectus, a versatile species that migrated westward across the continent from the east. "Until now, we lacked strong evidence of migration from east to west," acknowledged Roman Garba, an archaeologist from the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and a study co-author.
Initially, the age of the artifacts could not be pinpointed. However, advances in technology have since enabled precise dating. Garba and his team used a technique involving cosmogenic isotopes, which are rare isotopes formed when cosmic rays collide with minerals on Earth's surface. The concentration changes of these isotopes indicate how long ago the minerals were buried.
To date, the most ancient, verifiably dated evidence of hominins in Europe comprised fossils and stone tools from Spain and France, ranging from 1.1 to 1.2 million years old. In comparison, the oldest stone tools in Eastern Africa date back to 2.8 million years ago.
Given the dating, researchers speculate that Homo erectus, the only known human species existing outside Africa at that time, could have crafted these tools. Tools found at the Korolev site bear resemblance to those from archaeological digs in the Caucasus Mountains, also linked to Homo erectus and dated back to about 1.8 million years ago. Due to the absence of remains at the Korolev site, it's not definitive that Homo erectus was the creator of these tools.
These discoveries contribute to understanding the possible routes taken by the earliest Europeans, supporting the idea of a spread from east to west, possibly via the Danube valleys, hypothesize the authors.
Despite having bodies akin to modern humans, Homo erectus had significantly smaller brains. First appearing around two million years ago, as fossil records indicate, this species was the first known to venture beyond Africa, aided by their stone tool-making and hunting skills. Evidence of their existence spans from present-day England to Southeast Asia.
However, some experts are skeptical about the study's dating, raising concerns about the research's robustness. "The chronology is unclear," stated Fabio Parenti, an archaeologist from the Federal University in Parana, highlighting the artifacts' vague description and categorizing the study as "quite weak."
Giovanni Muttoni, a paleomagnetic dating expert from the University of Milan, echoes Parenti's concerns, theorizing that the significant expansion of hominins from Africa started around 900,000 years ago, amidst intense glacial cycles sparking food chain rearrangements. "The world changed 900,000 years ago. [...] Nothing of climatic or ecological significance happened 1.4 million years ago, in my view," argued Muttoni.
Specialists recommend employing multiple dating methods across different geological clocks to bolster confidence in the findings.
Research in Korolev has been paused due to the conflict in Ukraine. Nevertheless, scientists remain hopeful, planning future excavations and aiming to establish a local museum, aspiring for the site's inclusion on the UNESCO cultural heritage list.
Sources: Science, Nature, Live Science
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