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New clues about the earliest Europeans found in Romania

A new study led by Leiden University has analyzed recent archaeological excavations from the Middle/Upper Paleolithic in Western Romania at the site of Româneşti, which is one of the most important southeastern European sites associated with the earliest Homo sapiens on this continent. These excavations offer a significant glimpse of how modern humans adapted to their new environment after reaching Europe.

Over the past decades, scientists have discovered many early Homo sapiens fossils in Southeastern Europe, most likely because they first entered the continent through the Balkan Peninsula. However, until recently, very few of such fossils have been associated with cultural remains. The excavations at Româneşti revealed a variety of artifacts which were probably geared towards producing highly standardized chipped stone bladelets that might have been used to straighten wooden shafts, suggesting that this region was a type of projectile workshop.

The presence of thousands of such artifacts, spanning around 300 kilometers around the site, together with evidence for onsite fire use, shows that Româneşti was an important place where the early humans returned frequently. Since microscopic analyses of the artifact surfaces revealed that most of them were not used, the site may have acted as a place for manufacturing tools which were later transported in other areas.

“The use of good-quality local, meso-local, and exotic raw materials at the onset of the Aurignacian [one of the first cultural-technological traditions commonly associated with the expansion of Homo sapiens in Europe] also demonstrates that Româneşti and the other Banat sites were repeatedly returned to from a range of distances up to 300 km and were persistent places in the landscape,” the study authors explained.

Although these findings indicate changes in how Homo sapiens subsisted in comparison to the Neanderthals, further research is needed to clarify what the relationship of these early Homo sapiens with the Neanderthals was. While nearby contemporary fossils suggest that the two species of hominids were interbreeding, it is still not yet clear what this means for the ways in which their lifestyles were changing and how the archeological remains reflect this. 

The study is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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