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Who Were the First Modern Humans To Settle in Europe? Scientists Shed New Light

A new study examines the early migration of humans to Europe, focusing on a study of 36,000-year-old skull fragments from Crimea. These findings connect these early settlers to the Gravettian culture, demonstrating their significant role in shaping early European civilization.

Before the permanent settlement of modern humans in Europe, other human populations migrated from Africa to Europe around 60,000 years ago. However, they did not establish long-term settlements. Around 40,000 years ago, a significant climate crisis, along with a super-eruption from the Phlegraean Fields volcanic region near present-day Naples, led to a decrease in the early European populations.

Skull Fragment Found at Buran Kaya III

Skull fragment found at Buran Kaya III in Crimea, belonging to an individual dating back to approximately 37,000 years ago. Credit: Eva-Maria Geigl/IJM/CNRS

Discovering Europe’s First Modern Human Settlers

To determine who the first modern humans to settle definitively in Europe were, a team led by CNRS scientists analyzed the genome of two skull fragments from the Buran Kaya III site in Crimea dating to 36,000 and 37,000 years ago. By comparing them to DNADNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a molecule composed of two long strands of nucleotides that coil around each other to form a double helix. It is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms that carries genetic instructions for development, functioning, growth, and reproduction. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA).” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>DNA sequences from human genome databases, they revealed the genetic proximity between these individuals and both current and ancient Europeans, especially those associated with the Gravettian culture, known for producing female figurines referred to as “Venuses”, whose apogee in Europe came between 31,000 and 23,000 years ago.

Connection to Gravettian Culture

The stone tools found at Buran Kaya III also resemble some Gravettian assemblages. The individuals studied here therefore contributed both genetically and technologically to the population that gave rise to this civilisation around 5,000 years later. This research, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on 23 October, documents the first arrival of the ancestors of Europeans.

Reference: “Genome sequences of 36,000- to 37,000-year-old modern humans at Buran-Kaya III in Crimea” by E. Andrew Bennett, Oğuzhan Parasayan, Sandrine Prat, Stéphane Péan, Laurent Crépin, Alexandr Yanevich, Thierry Grange and Eva-Maria Geigl, 23 October 2023, Nature Ecology & Evolution.
DOI: 10.1038/s41559-023-02211-9

Source: SciTechDaily