BEACON TRANSCRIPT – A large team of researchers made an amazing discovery which could have unearthed one of the most important parts of human evolution. In a Portuguese cave, they found a 400,000-year-old skull which could be the oldest human skull ever found.
The research team was led by the Portuguese archaeologist João Zilhão and the American anthropologist Rolf Quam. They discovered the hominin skull in the cave of Aroeira, Portugal, and concluded that it might belong more to the Neanderthal category than to Homo sapiens.
After the analysis of the skull, they will try to establish how hominins, especially Neanderthals, evolved during the Middle Pleistocene. Together with it, they also found axes made of stone, human teeth, and animal remains.
A prized discovery
This is the most important human fossil discovered in western Europe. Other skulls coming from the same period were either poorly dated or had no clear archaeological context. This cranium received an accurate dating, namely 400,000 years ago.
Researchers dubbed the cranium vital for a proper understanding of the Neanderthal evolution. It is the oldest human fossil ever to be excavated and shows some similarities with other fossils from the same period found in Spain, France, or Italy.
Also, the discovery greatly increased the diversity of human fossils gathered from that time period. This led the researchers to the conclusion that different populations of ancient humans had different features, depending on the area where they were located.
How did they find the skull?
The cranium was buried at the back of the Aroeira cave and stuck into a bundle of sediments. Thus, the researchers had to use a circular saw to cut a huge stone block which contained the skull and then they polished it out of the chunk. However, it was no easy process and it took them two years to extract the skull from the cemented block.
The extraction process took place in a laboratory from a paleoanthropology research center in Madrid, Spain. Researchers are still performing analyses on the skull, but it will be moved to a museum in Portugal starting October this year. If you are curious about seeing the skull, it will be exhibited in the human evolution section of Museu Nacional de Arqueologia in Lisbon.