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Oldest cranial, dental and postcranial fossils of early modern European humans confirmed


The human fossil evidence from the Mladec Caves in Moravia, Czech Republic, excavated more than 100 years ago, has been proven for the first time, through modern radiocarbon dating, to be the oldest cranial, dental and postcranial assemblage of early modern humans in Europe.

A team of researchers from the Natural History Museum in Vienna, from the University of Vienna in Austria and from the Washington University in St. Louis, USA recently conducted the first successful direct dating of the material. Several previous attempts to radiocarbon date the Mladec specimens directly have failed, but in the present attempt by using teeth as dating material reliable results were obtained.

The findings are documented in the May 19 issue of Nature.

"The dating results document that these samples are as old as we thought they should be," agree Maria Teschler-Nicola from the Natural History Museum in Vienna and Erik Trinkaus, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, the two anthropologists involved in this study. "The Mladec samples date to around 31,000 years ago," reports Eva Maria Wild from the VERA (Vienna Environmental Research Accelerator) Laboratory at University of Vienna, where the radiocarbon dating has been performed. This is the oldest assemblage of modern humans in Europe which retains many portions of the skeleton plus archaeological objects from the Aurignacian period. Only two modern human specimens from a site in Romania, dated to ~35,000 years ago, are older. At Mladec there are multiple individuals - at least 5 or 6 represented. The dating shows that the Mladec assemblage is central to discussions of modern human emergence in Europe and the fate of the Neandertals.

The Mladc remains are universally accepted as those of early modern humans. However, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether they also exhibit distinctive archaic features, indicative of some degree of Neandertal ancestry, or are morphologically aligned solely with recent humans and therefore document only a dispersal of modern humans into Europe.

The radiocarbon dating of the Mladec assemblage confirms that they derived from the time period of the middle to late Aurignacian of Central Europe. Given the presence of multiple individuals, males and females, adult and immature with cranial, dental and postcranial elements, the Mladec assemblage becomes the oldest directly dated substantial assemblage of modern human remains in Europe.

Neil Schoenherr | EurekAlert!
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