Prehistoric Europe - First Europeans


Prehistoric Europe refers to the prehistorical period of Europe, usually taken to refer to human prehistory since the Lower Paleolithic, but in principle also extending to the geological time scale -for which see Geological history of Europe.

From the Lower Paleolithic, approximately 1.8 million years ago, and far into the Upper Paleolithic or 20,000 years ago, Europe was populated by Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis. In the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic, from about 43,000 to 6,000 years ago, Europe had Homo sapiens hunter-gatherer populations. During the last glacial maximum, much of Europe was depopulated and re-settled, about 15,000 years ago. The European Neolithic began about 9,000 years ago in southeastern Europe, and reached northern Europe by about 5,000 years ago.

The forerunner to the Bronze age was the Chalcolithic or Copper age; an archaeological site in Serbia contains the worlds oldest securely dated evidence of copper making at high temperature, from 7,500 years ago. The European Bronze Age begins from about 3200 BC in Greece. The European Iron Age begins from about 1200 BC, spreading to northern Europe by 500 BC. During the Iron Age, Europe gradually enters the historical period. Literacy came to the Mediterranean world from as early as the 8th century BC (Classical Antiquity), Northern Europe, including Northern Russia, remained in the prehistoric period until as late as the Late Middle Ages, around AD 1400, with the Northern Crusades. Thus, much of Europe was in a stage of proto-history for a long period. Read more ...

First Wave of European Colonization




In the News ...


  Ancient Europeans intolerant to lactose for 5,000 years after they adopted agriculture   PhysOrg - October 21, 2014
By analyzing DNA extracted from the petrous bones of skulls of ancient Europeans, scientists have identified that these peoples remained intolerant to lactose (natural sugar in the milk of mammals) for 5,000 years after they adopted agricultural practices and 4,000 years after the onset of cheese-making among Central European Neolithic farmers.




Human fossils from 'oldest Parisian'   BBC - October 9, 2014
Scientists have unearthed rare, ancient human remains in silts close to the River Seine in France. The left arm bones are dated to about 200,000 years ago, and look to be Neanderthal - although the researchers say that with no other fossils it is impossible to make a full description. There is little Neanderthal material of this age in northwest Europe.




Europeans drawn from three ancient 'tribes'   BBC - September 18, 2014
The modern European gene pool was formed when three ancient populations mixed within the last 7,000 years. Blue-eyed, swarthy hunters mingled with brown-eyed, pale skinned farmers as the latter swept into Europe from the Near East. But another, mysterious population with Siberian affinities also contributed to the genetic landscape of the continent. The findings are based on analysis of genomes from nine ancient Europeans. Agriculture originated in the Near East - in modern Syria, Iraq and Israel - before expanding into Europe around 7,500 years ago.




New branch added to European family tree: Europeans descended from at least 3, not 2, groups of ancient humans   Science Daily - September 17, 2014
Previous work suggested that Europeans descended from two ancestral groups: indigenous hunter-gatherers and early European farmers. This new study shows that there was also a third ancestral group, the Ancient North Eurasians, who contributed genetic material to almost all present-day Europeans. The research also reveals an even older lineage, the Basal Eurasians. The setting: Europe, about 7,500 years ago. Agriculture was sweeping in from the Near East, bringing early farmers into contact with hunter-gatherers who had already been living in Europe for tens of thousands of years.




Hunter-gatherer European had blue eyes and dark skin   BBC - January 27, 2014

Scientists have shed light on what ancient Europeans looked like. Genetic tests reveal that a hunter-gatherer who lived 7,000 years ago had the unusual combination of dark skin and hair and blue eyes. It has surprised scientists, who thought that the early inhabitants of Europe were fair. Two hunter-gatherer skeletons were discovered in a cave in the mountains of north-west Spain in 2006. The cool, dark conditions meant the remains (called La Brana 1 and 2) were remarkably well preserved. Scientists were able to extract DNA from a tooth of one of the ancient men and sequence his genome. The team found that the early European was most closely genetically related to people in Sweden and Finland. But while his eyes were blue, his genes reveal that his hair was black or brown and his skin was dark. This was a result that was unexpected.




Spanish hunter-gatherer had blue eyes and dark skin   PhysOrg - January 27, 2014
La Brana 1, name used to baptize a 7,000 years old individual from the Mesolithic Period, whose remains were recovered at La Brana-Arintero site in Valdelugueros (Leon, Spain) had blue eyes and dark skin. The Mesolithic, a period that lasted from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago (between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic), ends with the advent of agriculture and livestock farming, coming from the Middle-East. The arrival of the Neolithic, with a carbohydrate-based diet and new pathogens transmitted by domesticated animals, entailed metabolic and immunological challenges that were reflected in genetic adaptations of post-Mesolithic populations. Among these is the ability to digest lactose, which La Brana individual could not do.




Ancient European Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers Coexisted, Sans Sex   Live Science - October 10, 2013
Neolithic hunter-gatherers and farmers lived side by side without having sex for more than 2,000 years, new research suggests. Analysis of fossil skeletons unearthed in a cave in Germany revealed that the two populations remained mostly separate for two millennia, despite living in the same region.




Prehistoric Europeans spiced their cooking   BBC - August 22, 2013
Europeans had a taste for spicy food at least 6,000 years ago, it seems. Researchers found evidence for garlic mustard in the residues left on ancient pottery shards discovered in what is now Denmark and Germany. The spice was found alongside fat residues from meat and fish.

Prehistoric Europeans Liked Spicy Food, Study Suggests   Live Science - August 22, 2013

A piece of an ancient cooking pot with some blackened foodresidue on it. The pottery shard, excavated from an archaeological site in northern Europe, is more than 6,000 years old.




Oldest Poison Pushes Back Ancient Civilization 20,000 Years   Live Science - July 30, 2012

The late Stone Age may have had an earlier start in Africa than previously thought - by some 20,000 years. new analysis of artifacts from a cave in South Africa reveals that the residents were carving bone tools, using pigments, making beads and even using poison 44,000 years ago. These sorts of artifacts had previously been linked to the San culture, which was thought to have emerged around 20,000 years ago. "Our research proves that the Later Stone Age emerged in South Africa far earlier than has been believed and occurred at about the same time as the arrival of modern humans in Europe," study researcher Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, said in a statement.




Later Stone Age Got Earlier Start in South Africa Than Thought   Science Daily - July 30, 2012
The Later Stone Age emerged in South Africa more than 20,000 years earlier than previously believed - about the same time humans were migrating from Africa to the European continent, says a new international study led by the University of Colorado Boulder. The study shows the onset of the Later Stone Age in South Africa likely began some 44,000 to 42,000 years ago, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and lead study author. The new dates are based on the use of precisely calibrated radiocarbon dates linked to organic artifacts found at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the border of South Africa and Swaziland containing evidence of hominid occupation going back 200,000 years.




  Teeth and jaw are from 'earliest Europeans'   BBC - November 2, 2011
Worn ancient teeth and a jaw fragment unearthed in the UK and Italy have something revealing to say about how modern humans conquered the globe. The finds in Kents Cavern, Devon, and Grotta del Cavallo, Apulia, have been confirmed as the earliest known remains of Homo sapiens in Europe. Careful dating suggests they are more than 41,000 years old, and perhaps as much as 45,000 years old in the case of the Italian "baby teeth".




Early human fossils unearthed in Ukraine   BBC - June 21, 2011
Ancient remains uncovered in Ukraine represent some of the oldest evidence of modern people in Europe, experts have claimed. Archaeologists found human bones and teeth, tools, ivory ornaments and animal remains at the Buran-Kaya cave site. The 32,000-year-old fossils bear cut marks suggesting they were defleshed as part of a post-mortem ritual.




  Archaeologists discover Britain's 'oldest house'   BBC - August 11, 2010

The circular structure, found at a site near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has been dated as being made in 8,500 BC. Described as a "sensational discovery" by archaeologists, this is 500 years earlier than the previous oldest house. The teams from the universities of Manchester and York are also examining a nearby wooden platform, which is being claimed as the oldest example of carpentry in Europe. Nicky Milner, an archaeologist from the University York, says such sites are "incredibly rare" - and that finding such early evidence of settled living gives a new insight into hunter gatherers.




  Humans' early arrival in Britain   BBC - July 8, 2010
Stone Age Europeans Get Older and Colder   Wired - July 8, 2010




Europe's Ancestors: Cro-Magnon 28,000 Years Old Had DNA Like Modern Humans Science Daily - July 16, 2008
Some 40,000 years ago, Cro-Magnons -- the first people who had a skeleton that looked anatomically modern -- entered Europe, coming from Africa. A group of geneticists, coordinated by Guido Barbujani and David Caramelli of the Universities of Ferrara and Florence, shows that a Cro-Magnoid individual who lived in Southern Italy 28,000 years ago was a modern European, genetically as well as anatomically.




"First European" Confirmed to Be 1.2 Million Years Old National Geographic - March 27, 2008
An analysis of an ancient jaw containing teeth has confirmed that humans reached Western Europe well over a million years ago, far earlier than previously thought. The prehistoric fossil was excavated last June at Atapuerca in northern Spain, along with a previously reported tooth and stone tools used for butchering meat. At the time, scientists announced that they had dated the separate tooth to 1.2 million years ago but that more research was needed before the find could be reported in a scientific journal.




First Europeans Came From Asia, Not Africa, Tooth Study Suggests National Geographic - August 6, 2007
Europe's first early human colonizers were from Asia, not Africa, a new analysis of more than 5,000 ancient teeth suggests. Researchers had traditionally assumed that Europe was settled in waves starting around two million years ago, as our ancient ancestors - collectively known as hominids - came over from Africa.




Fossil Tooth Belonged to Earliest Western European, Experts Say National Geographic - July 2, 2007
A fossil tooth discovered last week in Spain belonged to the oldest known western European, scientists have announced. The early-human molar was discovered last Wednesday at the Sierra Atapuerca archaeological site in the Burgos Province of northern Spain. Caves at the site, which lies about 15 miles (25 kilometers) east of the provincial capital of Burgos, have previously yielded other prehistoric human remains (map of Spain). Early human fossils found at the nearby Gran Dolina site in 1994 indicated that humans had occupied Europe as far back as 800,000 years ago - about 300,000 years earlier than previously thought.




Skull Is First Fossil Proof of Human Migration Theory, Study Says National Geographic - January 13, 2007
A 36,000-year-old skull from South Africa provides the first fossil evidence that modern humans left Africa 70,000 to 50,000 years ago to colonize Eurasia, new research suggests. The "out of Africa" theory holds that modern humans left East Africa only relatively recently, pushing into southern Africa, the Middle East, Eurasia, and Australia sometime between 70,000 to 50,000 years ago. This theory is bolstered not only by this latest discovery but also by a separate find in Russia, in which human teeth and artifacts have been dated to around the same age as the South Africa skull.




Clues found for early Europeans BBC - January 13, 2007
An archaeological find in Russia has shed light on the migration of modern humans into Europe. Artefacts uncovered at the Kostenki site, south of Moscow, suggest modern humans were at this spot about 45,000 years ago. The first moderns may have entered Europe through a different route than was previously thought, the international team reports. This reflects an entry from the Levant (eastern shores of the Mediterranean) just before 44,000 years ago.




Stone Tools Reveal Humans Lived in Britain 700,000 Years Ago National Geographic - December 17, 2005
Stone tools found on the coast of Britain suggest early humans first colonized northern Europe much earlier than previously known. Ancient flints discovered in cliffs at Pakefield in eastern England show humans lived in northern Europe some 700,000 years ago, according to researchers. They say the find indicates that humans journeyed into Britain 200,000 years earlier than experts had suspected. Flints typical of crafted tools used for butchering meat and cutting wood were found in sediments along with the remains of hippos, elephants, and other exotic animals. The long-extinct wildlife dates the flints back to a much warmer period when Britain was still connected to continental Europe via a land bridge.




Early Humans Settled India Before Europe, Study Suggests National Geographic - November 14, 2005
Modern humans migrated out of Africa and into India much earlier than once believed, driving older hominids in present-day India to extinction and creating some of the earliest art and architecture, a new study suggests. The research places modern humans in India tens of thousands of years before their arrival in Europe.




Prehistoric Bones Point to First Modern-Human Settlement in Europe National Geographic - May 19, 2005

Scientists have confirmed that bones found in the Czech Republic represent the earliest human settlement in Europe. The collection of bones, which include samples from two males and two females, was excavated from the site of Mladec more than a century ago. Scientists have until now failed to date the fossils accurately. The new research, using radiocarbon dating, has shown the bones to be about 31,000 radiocarbon years old. (Radiocarbon years and calendar years don't always match. Radiocarbon dating is based on the decay rate of Carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon present in the atmosphere that is absorbed by all living things. Atmospheric abundance of Carbon 14 has varied over time. This makes it difficult to assign calendar dates to the fossil remains of organisms from certain time periods, as in the case of the Mladec bones.) Modern humans began moving into Europe about 40,000 years ago. At the time, the Neandertals (also called Neanderthals) were still present in Europe. The two groups lived alongside each other until the Neandertals disappeared around 28,000 years ago.




DNA Study Traces European Ancestors to 10 Men

November 10, 2000 - AP

About 80 percent of Europeans arose from primitive hunters who arrived about 40,000 years ago, endured the long ice age and then expanded rapidly to dominate the continent, a new study shows. Researchers analyzing the Y chromosome taken from 1,007 men from 25 different locations in Europe found a pattern that suggests four out of five of the men shared a common male ancestor about 40,000 years ago.

Peter A. Underhill, a senior researcher at the Stanford Genome Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and co-author of the study, said the research supports conclusions from archaeological, linguistic and other DNA evidence about the settlement of Europe by ancient peoples. When we can get different lines of evidence that tell the same story, then we feel we are telling the true history of the species. The researchers used the Y chromosome in the study because its rare changes establish a pattern that can be traced back hundreds of generations, thus helping to plot the movement of ancient humans. The Y chromosome is inherited only by sons from their fathers. When sperm carrying the Y chromosome fertilizes an egg it directs the resulting baby to be a male. An X chromosome from the father allows a fertilized egg to be female.

The Y chromosome has about 60 million DNA base pairs. Changes in those base pairs happen infrequently, but they occur often enough to establish patterns that can be used to trace the ancestry of people. Researchers looking at the 1,007 chromosome samples from Europe identified 22 specific markers that formed a specific pattern of change. Underhill said the researchers found that about 80 percent of all European males shared a single pattern, suggesting they had a common ancestor thousands of generations ago.

The basic pattern had some changes that apparently developed among people who once shared a common ancestor and then were isolated for many generations. This scenario supports other studies about the Paleolithic European groups. Those studies suggest that a primitive, stone-age human came to Europe, probably from Central Asia and the Middle East, in two waves of migration beginning about 40,000 years ago. Their numbers were small and they lived by hunting animals and gathering plant food. They used crudely sharpened stones and fire. About 24,000 years ago, the last ice age began, with mountain-sized glaciers moving across most of Europe. The Paleolithic Europeans retreated before the ice, finding refuge for hundreds of generations in three areas: what is now Spain, the Balkans and the Ukraine.

When the glaciers melted, about 16,000 years ago, the Paleolithic tribes resettled the rest of Europe. Y chromosome mutations occurred among people in each of the ice age refuges, said Underhill. He said the research shows a pattern that developed in Spain is now most common in northwest Europe, while the Ukraine pattern is mostly in Eastern Europe and the Balkan pattern is most common in Central Europe.

About 8,000 years ago a more advanced people, the Neolithic, migrated to Europe from the Middle East, bringing with them a new Y chromosome pattern and a new way of life - agriculture. About 20 percent of Europeans now have the Y chromosome pattern from this migration. Archaeological digs in European caves clearly show that before 8,000 years ago, most humans lived by gathering and hunting. After that, there are traces of grains and other agricultural products. Earlier studies had traced European migration patterns using the DNA contained in the mitochondria, a key part of each cell. This type is DNA is passed down from mother to daughter."

Antonio Torroni, a researcher at the University of Urbino, Italy, who first proposed that early humans retreated to Spain during the ice age, said in a separate Science report that the Y chromosome study fits completely' with the mitochondria studies. The Y chromosome studies are also consistent with genetic studies showing a broader picture of human migration. In general, studies show that modern humans first arose in Africa about 100,000 years ago and thousands of years later began a long series of migrations, he said. Some groups migrated eastward and humans are known to have existed in Australia about 60,000 years ago. Other groups crossed the land bridge into the Middle East. Humans appeared in Central Asia about 50,000 years ago. From there, the theory goes, some migrated west, arriving in Europe about 40,000 years ago. Later, some migrated east, across the Bering Straits, to the Americas.




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