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Evolution in Europe

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© AMNH / Denis Finnin

Neanderthal diorama


Between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago, long after the first groups of hominids left Africa, a variety of early human species arose and flourished in Europe. Researchers have discovered the remains of one such species at a site in Spain dating back some 400,000 years. The unnamed hominid was probably an early relative of Homo neanderthalensis, commonly known as the Neanderthals.

Pit of the Bones

Deep below Spain's Atapuerca Hills, the Pit of the Bones is difficult to reach. After walking--and sometimes crawling--through narrow underground corridors, researchers must inch their way down a cramped vertical shaft. At the bottom, a passageway slopes down to a spot crammed with bones from cave bears and other mammals, including the densest concentration of ancient hominid fossils in the world.

Featured Fossil: Skull 5

Workers at the Spanish site Sima de los Huesos, or "Pit of the Bones," have found mostly broken and fractured fossils. The fossil known as Skull 5, was found in dozens of pieces. Fortunately, researchers were able to reassemble the fragments, and the result is one of the most exquisitely preserved fossil hominid skulls ever found. Researchers think Skull 5 and other remains from this site are from precursors of the Neanderthals.

Symmetrical Stone

Created by early humans living in northern Spain some 400,000 years ago, the symmetrical stone tool is quite sophisticated. It was carefully shaped on both sides, probably from a large stone core. Whoever made the symmetrical hand axe had a predetermined form in mind when removing flakes to produce the tool.

Diverse Hominids in Europe

A variety of hominids existed in Europe before the Neanderthals. A fossil skull that was found in northern Germany, has many Neanderthal features, but lacks the rounded braincase walls, sharply retreating cheekbones and puffed-out midface that are typical of Homo neanderthalensis. It probably represents a close relative.

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