An ancient jawbone thought to belong to Neanderthals may force a rethinking of the history of modern humans in Europe.
A new analysis of the broken mandible shows that there is no resemblance to Neanderthal mandibles. In fact, it may belong to a A wise man – and, since it lived 45,000 to 66,000 years ago, it may be the oldest part of our species in Europe.
The same bone was found in 1887 in the town of Banyoles in Spain, where it is named. Since then, scientists have studied it in more detail, placing it in the Late Pleistocene period when the region that is now Europe was populated by Neanderthals.homo neanderthalensis).
This, as well as the ancient shape of the bone, led scientists to conclude that Banyoles was a Neanderthal.
“The mandible has been studied over the years and has been considered Neandertal based on its age and location, and that it does not have any of the signs of disease. A wise man: chin,” said Brian Keeling, a palaeoanthropologist at Binghamton University in the United States.
Keeling and his colleagues analyzed the bone using a method called three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis. This is a non-invasive procedure that involves going through the bone structure in detail, mapping it and comparing it to other remains.
He took advanced 3D scales, and used this not only to study the bone, but also to reconstruct the missing pieces. He then compared Banyoles to the mandibles of Neanderthals and modern humans.
“Our results found something surprising,” says Keeling. “Banyoles did not have special Neanderthal characteristics and did not fit Neanderthals in all its forms.”
It seemed to closely match the jaws of our branch of the family, except for one detail: a missing chin.
Since the chin is considered to be an expression of A wise man compared to other ancient people, this brought a problem. In addition, Banyoles also shared features with ancient hominins that lived in Europe hundreds of thousands of years ago.
The researchers compared the bone to one from a modern human from 37,000 to 42,000 years ago whose remains were found in Romania. He is known to have the appearance of a Neanderthal, and he has a chin.
DNA analysis of that jaw revealed that the DNA included sequences from a single Neanderthal ancestor that lived four to six generations earlier – which may explain its admixture.
Since Banyoles does not have Neanderthal features, the team concluded that his strange appearance could not be because the man was a hybrid.
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Comparison with the past A wise man bones from Africa showed that these people had smaller jaws than we do today.
So there are two possibilities. Or Banyoles was a A wise man from a previously unknown group that co-existed with the Neanderthals in Late Pleistocene Europe. Or he was mixed in between A wise man of this unknown group is an ancient person who has not yet been identified.
Only one thing is clear: that Banyoles was not a Neanderthal.
There is one way to solve the mystery, researchers say – try to extract DNA from a single bone or tooth, and follow it.
“If Banyoles is indeed a member of our species, this ancient man may represent the oldest A wise man that was ever recorded in Europe,” says Keeling.
Research has been published in Journal of Human Evolution.