Stone tools unearthed in Ukraine could be oldest known evidence of human presence in Europe

By Isaac M March 8, 2024

Stone tools unearthed at an archaeological site in Ukraine are about 1.4 million years old, representing the oldest evidence of human presence in Europe, according to a new study.

The groundbreaking finding, published in the journal Nature, sheds light on the arrival of the first humans into Europe and the direction of their travel.

It confirms the hypothesis that the first pulse of early human ancestors’ migration into Europe came from the east or southeast.

Hominins – the group that includes modern humans and closely related ancestor species like Neanderthals – are thought to have arrived in Eurasia between two and one million years ago, but the precise time of their entry into Europe has been difficult to date.

While modern humans left Africa about 270,000 years ago, it remains unknown when exactly any of the human ancestor species entered Europe.

This is mainly due to the scarcity of archaeological sites of that age, researchers say.

One such rare site where major excavations have been carried out is Korolevo in western Ukraine which has yielded stone age tools since the 1970s.

In the 70s, researchers unearthed a set of chipped stones from the site, deliberately fashioned from volcanic rocks.

Now, scientists have used new methods to date sedimentary rock layers surrounding the tools to around 1.4 million years old.

“This is the earliest evidence of any type of human in Europe that is dated,” study co-author Mads Faurschou Knudsen from Aarhus University in Denmark told the Associated Press.

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However, it remains uncertain which of the early human ancestors likely fashioned these tools.

Researchers suspect it may have been Homo erectus, who were the first species to walk upright and master fire use.

“Our earliest ancestor, Homo erectus, was the first of the hominins to leave Africa about two million years ago and head for the Middle East, East Asia, and Europe,” study lead author Roman Garba said in a statement.

“Based on a climate model and field pollen data, we have identified three possible interglacial warm periods when the first hominins could have reached Korolevo following most likely the Danube River migration corridor,” Dr Garba added.

Analysing how the habitat at the Korolevo site may have changed over two million years, scientists say the early human ancestors likely exploited Earth’s warmer periods known as interglacials to colonise these higher latitude sites.

Due to the Korolevo site being close to Nato countries Romania and Hungary, it has spared much of the terror and destruction wrought on Ukraine by Russian forces.

“Not a single bomb has fallen on it since the war began,” Dr Garba told Spanish daily El Pais.

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