Monday, 17 May 2021

Even more ancient hominins from Europe

Two recently published articles caught my eye today. One reports on the analysis of Initial Upper Palaeolithic human remains from Bulgaria that showed recent Neanderthal ancestry [1], the other reports on the analysis of a skull from the Czech Republic which showed the individual to have been one of the earliest people in Europe following the expansion out of Africa [2]. Dating between 42,000 to at least 45,000 years, it is worth noting that we have here yet more evidence for the antiquity of modern humans far outstripping the ~6000 years limit given by a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.

Let's look at the Bulgarian specimens. These are significant in that they may be the oldest modern humans from the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe to have been recovered to date:
Five human specimens were recovered from Bacho Kiro Cave in recent excavations. They consist of a lower molar (F6-620) found in the upper part of Layer J in the Main Sector, and four bone fragments (AA7-738, BB7-240, CC7-2289 and CC7-335) from Layer I in Niche 1. They have been directly radiocarbon-dated to between 45,930 and 42,580 calibrated years before present (cal. bp), and their mitochondrial genomes are of the modern human type, suggesting that they are the oldest Upper Palaeolithic modern humans that have been recovered in Europe. [3]

Genomic analysis of these individuals also showed them to have had recent Neanderthal ancestry, between 6-7 generations previously. [4]

The second paper reports on the genomic analysis of a near-complete skull found in 1950 in what is now the Czech Republic. There has been some uncertainty about how old this skull is, with estimates ranging between 15,000 to 30,000 years of age. [5] The researchers note

Assuming a common Neanderthal admixture event, these results suggest that Zlatý kůň is of approximately the same age as the ~45,000-year-old Ust’-Ishim individual or up to a few hundred years older. However, if a second Neanderthal admixture event affected Ust’-Ishim after the initial common Neanderthal admixture, as was previously suggested, Zlatý kůň could be even several thousands of years older than Ust’-Ishim. We have not found support for a second Neanderthal admixture event in the Zlatý kůň data. [6]
The researchers note that this individual probably "one of the earliest Eurasian inhabitants following the expansion out of Africa." [7]

When reading the article reporting on the Bulgarian remains, I was struck by this map of archaeological sites yielding genetic data and/or assemblages:
Sites with modern human genome-wide data older than 40 kyr bp (red circles) or older than 30 kyr bp (yellow circles), sites in Europe with modern human remains older than 40 kyr bp (red squares) and sites with IUP assemblages (black squares).

In 1965  L.G. Sargent conceded that
“…there is abundant evidence of early “man” at a time which certainly appears to be far beyond the limits allowed by Bible chronology. This must be admitted even after discounting the slender and uncertain remains claimed for a still more remote antiquity, about which there have been such notorious blunders and even downright fraud.  [8]
Fifty-six years later, what L.G. Sargent called "abundant evidence" in comparison is now overwhelming. More than that, we have now arrived at the point where - preservation of remains permitting - we can sequence the genomes of these hominin fossils and gain even more insight into human prehistory. There is no way to credibly ignore this evidence, and an intellectually honest community would acknowledge this and reinterpret its theology in the light of this.

1. Hajdinjak, M., Mafessoni, F., Skov, L. et al. Initial Upper Palaeolithic humans in Europe had recent Neanderthal ancestry. Nature 592, 253–257 (2021).
2. Prüfer, K., Posth, C., Yu, H. et al. A genome sequence from a modern human skull over 45,000 years old from Zlatý kůň in Czechia. Nat Ecol Evol (2021).
3. Hajdinjak, M., Mafessoni, F., Skov, L. et al, p 254
4. ibid, p 256
5. Prüfer, K., Posth, C., Yu, H. et al, p 1
6. ibid, p 4
7. ibid, p 1
8. Sargent L.G “The Origin of Man” The Christadelphian (1965) 102:344