The First French – 200,000 Years Earlier than Expected
French Site Indicates Prehistoric Frenchmen 1.2 million Years Ago
The origins of our species, Homo sapiens and indeed all hominids can be traced back to Africa. However, fossil evidence indicates that various species of early human migrated out of Africa and began to exploit new environments elsewhere in the world. From Africa, the first humans migrated into the Arabian peninsular and into Europe, probably through the Gibraltor strait as well as via Turkey. The question of when the first humans arrived in Europe is difficult to pin down in the fossil record. Human fossils are extremely rare and the evidence from stone tools for example, can be open to misinterpretation. Much of the evidence for stone tools and other objects come from sediments deposited by rivers, the problem is; were some of these items shaped by our ancestors or are they merely shaped by the attritional action of the water.
The earliest European hominids are associated with a particular species of ancient human H. ergaster, it had been thought that this type of hominid migrated into Europe around 1.2 million years ago. However, a new hominid site in southern France indicates that humans may have reached the Montpellier region approximately 1.57 million years ago, 200,000 years earlier than previously known.
A team of scientists and anthropologists are studying a number of artefacts and fossil bones recovered from various strata in a basalt quarry at Lezignan la Cebe, in the Herault valley. Stone tools found in the deepest layer of strata explored indicate that humans were around this area over 1.5 million years ago.
The site was first discovered back in the mid 1990s by a local man called Jean Rouvier, he had discovered strata containing a number of fossilised animal bones. It was only in the summer of 2008 that he mentioned his discovery to Jerome Ivorra, an archaeological researcher at France’s prestigious National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). The site was subsequently explored and partially excavated leading to the discovery of the fossilised bones of wild cattle, deer, ancient horses and a number of carnivores. However, 10 metres below this layer the dig team found in a layer of strata twenty stone objects that bore signs of having been worked and shaped by early humans.
Earliest Evidence of Humans in Europe
When the strata was mapped and dated it was found to be approximately 1,570,000 years old, making this the earliest evidence of humans in Europe ever recorded. The French research team’s findings have been reported in the scientific journal “Comptes Rendus Palevol”.
A statement sent out by those organisations that had funded the excavation programme commented:
“A discovery as rich as the one in the Herault Valley offers a real opportunity to better understand the Europe of this period”.
Further work at the site is planned for 2010, perhaps the research teams will uncover evidence of human remains, H. ergaster at the site, proving beyond doubt that more than 1.5 million years ago, human species lived in France.
The most famous early humans from France are the Neanderthals. Closely related to our own species, the last Neanderthals are thought to have died out around 40,000 years ago.
A Model of a Neanderthal
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
The Neanderthal figure comes from the CollectA Prehistoric Life model range: CollectA Prehistoric Life Model Range.