Study Says Hominids May Have Entered Europe Via the Strait of Gibraltar 900,000 Years Ago
Researchers at the University of Barcelona believe that they may have evidence that hominids entered Europe through the south of the Iberian Peninsula 900,000 years ago. Evidence for their claim comes from a new dating of African hominid and primate remains that were found in the Victoria Cave in Cartagena, Spain.
Lluís Gibert, researcher and professor in the Faculty of Geology at the University of Barcelona told the news agency SINC:
“Until now, the dominant theory asserts that the human migration from Africa to Europe took place by going north around the Mediterranean and arriving at the peninsula through the Pyrenees; but our work, and others before, suggest that hominids came from the south on different occasions. Previous studies of different hominid remains, lithics, and African fauna in the Orce (Baza basin, Granada) sites, have already suggested a migration from the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula around 1.3 million years ago, independently from other hominids that tried to go around the Mediterranean.”
The study has focused on new fossils found in the cave and stone tools (from the same period) unearthed in a nearby settlement, during a coincidental drop in the sea level. This research also included other experts at the University of Barcelona, such as Carles Ferràndez and María Lería.
Map of the first human migrations, following the common “Out of Africa” theory. (Public Domain)
Victoria Cave is a paleontological site that was excavated by Lluís Gibert’s father, the paleontologist Josep Gibert i Clols. The site has three kilometers (1.86 miles) of galleries and was a hyena den in the Pleistocene period. Remains of more than 90 vertebrate species have been discovered in the cave, including a hominid phalanx, Hippopotamus antiquus, Canis etruscus, Mammuthus meridionalis, and Theropithecus oswaldi - an ancient African primate similar to the modern baboon.
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“These are the only Theropithecus remains found in Europe, and their presence in the north of Africa during the Pleistocene, as well as their absence from other European sites, could be a first indication of the human migration along this strait,” explained Carles Ferràndez.
Inside the Victoria Cave in Cartagena, Spain. (Public Domain)
By using different dating techniques, the new study, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, shows that both the phalanx and the remains of the primate would date back some 900,000 years - the same as an ax discovered at the Black Cave site on the Quípar River, located just 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) from Victoria Cave.
"They are the first remains found in Europe of Acheulean technology, a type of lithic culture that appeared in Africa 1.6 million years ago and, until the dating of the Black Cave, it was thought that it had not come to our continent until 600,000 years ago,” Lluís Gibert told SINC.
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In addition, the arrival of these hominids seems to match records of a significant drop in sea level of up to 100 meters (328 feet), which could have facilitated the crossing of the strait. Ferràndez explained to SINC:
"Over the last million years of geological history, sea levels have dropped over 100 meters in glacial periods. The first drop of this magnitude is at around 0.9 million years, reducing the distance between Africa and Europe. According to paleogeographic reconstructions, at that time the strait would have been made up of 5 kilometers of water, some islands, and 2 more kilometers of water, which is very different from the 14 kilometers of water today."
Phalanx belonging to a Homo habilis found at the Victoria Cave site, Cartagena, Spain. Municipal Archaeological Museum of Cartagena. (Public Domain)
Recent research indicates that the first migrations of hominids from Africa took place across the Middle East and Asia Minor up to the south of the southern Caucasus 1.8 million years ago, but "there is currently no solid evidence between the Caucasus and the south of the Iberian peninsula to indicate an entry into Europe earlier than 1.3 million years following this path and overcoming all geographical and climatic barriers that existed," according to the researchers.
Featured Image: Neanderthal skull discovered along the Strait of Gibraltar. Source: American Museum of Natural History/ CC BY 3.0
By: Mariló T. A.
This article was first published in Spanish at http://www.ancient-origins.es and has been translated with permission.