Petralona Cave - Greece

The human skull that challenges the Out of Africa theory

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This is the account of the discovery of a skull that has the potential to change what we know about human evolution, and a suppression and cover-up which followed.   

In 1959, in an area called Chalkidiki in Petralona, Northern Greece, a shepherd came across a small opening to a cave, which became visible when a thick covering of snow finally melted.  He gathered a group of villagers to help him clear the entrance so they could go inside and explore.  They found a cave rich in stalactites and stalagmites. But they also found something surprising – a human skull embedded in the wall (later research also uncovered a huge number of fossils including pre-human species, animal hair, fossilized wood, and stone and bone tools).   

Petralona SkullThe skull was given to the University of Thessaloniki in Greece by the President of the Petralona Community. The agreement was that once the research was done, a museum would be opened featuring the findings from the Petralona cave, and the skull would be returned to be displayed in the museum – something that never happened.

Dr Aris Poulianos, member of the UNESCO's IUAES (International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences), later founder of the Anthropological Association of Greece , and an expert anthropologist who was working at the University of Moscow at the time, was invited by the Prime Minister of Greece to return to Greece to take a position of a University Chair in Athens.  This was due to the publication of his book, ‘The Origins of the Greeks’, which provides excellent research showing that Greek people didn’t originate from the Slavic nations but were indigenous to Greece.  Upon his return to Greece, Dr Poulianos was made aware of the discovery of the skull at Petralona, and immediately started studying the Petralona cave and skull.

The ‘Petralona man’, or Archanthropus of Petralona, as it has since been called, was found to be 700,000 years old, making it the oldest human europeoid (presenting European traits) of that age ever discovered in Europe. Dr Poulianos’ research showed that the Petralona man evolved separately in Europe and was not an ancestor of a species that came out of Africa. 

In 1964, independent German researchers, Breitinger and Sickenberg, tried to dismiss Dr Poulianos’ findings, arguing that the skull was only 50,000 years old and was indeed an ancestor that came from Africa.  However, research published in the US in 1971 in the prestigious Archaeology magazine, backed up the findings that the skull was indeed 700,000 years old.  This was based on an analysis of the cave’s stratigraphy and the sediment in which the skull was embedded.  Further research in the cave discovered isolated teeth and two pre-human skeletons dating back 800,000 years, as well as other fossils of various species.

Today, most academics who have analyzed the Petralona remains say that the cranium of the Archanthropus of Petralona belongs to an archaic hominid distinguished from Homo erectus, and from both the classic Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, but showing characterists of all those species and presenting strong European traits.  A skull dating back 700,000 which is either Homo sapien or part Homo sapien is in direct conflict with the Out of Africa theory of human evolution.  

Petralona Man

Further excavations continued in the cave of Petralona with the participation of international researchers (46 specialists from 12 separate countries), which provided further proof of Dr Poulianos’ claims, including remarkable findings like fossilized pieces of wood, an oak leaf, animal hair and coprolites, which enabled accurate dating, as well as the almost continuous presence of stone and bone tools of the Archanthropus evolutionary stage, from the lower (750,000 years) to the upper (550,000 years) layers of sediment within the cave.

The research, after an interruption due to the dictatorship in Greece, continued up to 1983. It was then ordered by the government that all excavations at the site were forbidden to anyone, including the original archaeological team, and for 15 years nobody had access to the site or to the findings – no reason was provided by the government.  Was this denial of access to prevent the extraction of whatever new scientific conclusions remained hidden within the incredible fossils embedded within the layers of the caves’ walls? 

After the Anthropological Society of Greece took the case to the courts, 15 years later they were again allowed access to the cave.  Since then the Ministry of Culture is trying in any way to overcome the Courts decision and further trials proceed.


First off let’s dispense with the red herring of the assault on the Prof and his wife. I sincerely doubt this is the only unsolved crime in Greece. No doubt there are other assaults equally horrific which have not been solved.

As to the age of the skull, I am not an expert and have no training other than a first year anthro course at uni and a second year archeology course which mainly dealt with North American First Nations and that was over 40 years ago.

That being said, weather the skull is 280,000 years old, 400,000 years old or 700,000 it does not necessarily mean the “out of Africa” theory is incorrect. Lucy is 3.2 million years old. She and her kind did not spring fully formed into existence, regardless of what Creationists might say. She was only one leaf on one twig, on one branch of an amazingly complex organism which ultimately became what we are today.

The origins of what we now call the human race may have stemmed from an even older ancestor of Lucy. That older ancestor may have been the forebearer of the various homo sapiens branches, twigs and leaves which were ultimately broken off the human tree.

Theories are not fact. They are not even alternate facts. They are theories. They are meant to make us think and engage in educated thoughtful debate. In reading the comments to this article I have watched thoughtful debate devolve into racist commentary. I find it very sad that such comments cannot be left out of the discussion. 

We have come a long way in a short time in our current understanding of the origins of homo sapien sapien. We are not even certain that this skull belongs in that twig on the tree. I have no doubt it belongs on the tree, but its placing is where the debate is.

The real pity here is lack of ability to study the artifact.


....if this dating is correct and the skull is an ancestor of neanderthals, then it could still be an ancestor - or cousin to an ancestor - of modern humans since many DNA tests reveal modern humans today are walking around with between 1 and 3 percent of their DNA being neanderthal, and some people even a marginally higher percentage. So still important in discussion of what part of us is out of africa and how much of us originates from elsewhere, like, say, caves in ancient greece or france or russia... still a find to note as important to the evolution of humans and evolution of DNA theory.

I haven't researched Poulianos work, so I won't comment on that part. Your pronouncement of the lineage of the skull is problematic for several reasons. One, the current theoretical structure suggests Neanderthals evolved in Africa and adapted in minor ways to the cold of Ice Age Europe.
Hmm, strike that - Neanderthals originating in Africa says nothing about how far their ancestors might have migrated.
One problem remains - if the skull is an ancestor of Neanderthal, then it is also an ancestor of us, since we were born out of the mingling of Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis and Homo Sapiens Sapiens of the time, leading to a stronger and more robust Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The genetic evidence is no longer disputable. Our more robust ancestors then spread out and conquered every continent. Regardless of which migration model you prefer, and regardless of which interpretation you favor, the skull is from an ancestor species.
I really don't get why people get so worked up about this stuff. Even if the skull is 700,000 years old, that just shows how amazing even our earlier ancestors were, migrating out from Africa and adapting to European environment just as later species did. Our origins don't say anything about how great we are, only how great those who came before us were. If you are going to tout "White Superiority" you should focus on Lactose Tolerance - the freakish ability to drink milk as an adult without becoming sick - that is the sum total of European genetic superiority after all!

ANYTHING that does not fit into the current science is SCOFFED at, then they try to make it 'disappear' because if it threatens their current beliefs, then they fear it makes them look silly and maybe 'not so expert' -after all they are being paid for their 'expertise' and news contrary to what they decree as 'truth' makes them look like idiots - so they prove they are idiots by going all human and killing the competition !
Their LIVELIHOODS are at stake !

I'm no expert, but it seems logical that some of the pre-human species of man would have wandered into Europe when weather conditions allowed it. They would have followed the food. The best evidence for evolution likely exists in Africa, where conditions are better to preserve bones, etc. A more complete story may come out as new evidence is found. Science is open-minded.


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