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The First Europeans

Early humans began spreading out from Africa almost two million years ago. The first waves of hominids headed east, toward Asia. Eventually, our relatives also turned west and north into Europe. Researchers once thought this westward migration did not begin until around 500,000 years ago. But exciting discoveries have pushed back the date. It now seems clear that the first early humans to penetrate the rugged terrain and harsh climates of western Europe arrived quite early--perhaps well over one million years ago.

How Did Hominids Reach Europe?
Across the Mediterranean Sea?

Hominids lived near the Mediterranean, so it might seem logical that our ancient relatives crossed the sea from Africa to Europe. But there is no evidence that hominids of this era had the watercraft to make such a voyage.

Across the Straight of Gibraltar?

Although the distance between Europe and Africa is only 13 kilometers (eight miles) here, the trip would have required a difficult swim through very strong currents.

By Land

Current evidence suggests hominids reached Europe over land through what is now Egypt.

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© Javier Trueba / Madrid Scientific Films / Photo Researchers, Inc.

Excavations at Gran Dolina in Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain


Tighenif jaw

Fossils from northern Africa, such as this jaw from Algeria, are similar to some hominid fossils found in Europe. Early humans migrated out of Africa and moved into Europe somewhere around one million years ago.

Featured Fossil: Gran Dolina Boy

Researchers working at the Gran Dolina site in the Sierra de Atapuerca of Spain have found fragmentary remains of early hominids. One of the most complete fossils is the "Gran Dolina Boy," who was around age 11 when he died. The Gran Dolina hominids were among the first Europeans, having reached northern Spain by around 800,000 years ago.

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