Researchers have long thought that a fragment of a jaw found in Europe could be from a Neanderthal, but the new analyzes have taken a different path.
THE jaw it is not similar to that of a Neanderthal and could belong to Homo sapiens, dated as alive between 45,000 and 66,000 years ago, and is now considered the oldest piece of the human species on the European continent.
The piece was found in Spain, in 1887, in the city of Banyoles, which originated the name of the fragment. Scientists have been studying the piece intensively ever since and have dated it back to the Pleistocene, a region in Europe where Neanderthals predominated (Homo neanderthalensis🇧🇷
Initially, the shape of the bones indicated to scientists that the Banyoles jaw was Neanderthal: “The jaw has been studied over the last century and for a long time was considered a Neanderthal based on its age and location, as well as the fact that missing one of the characteristics of diagnosis of Homo sapiens: a chin”, pointed out paleoanthropologist Brian Keeling, from the University of the USA.
Brian Keeling, along with his colleagues, thoroughly investigated the structure through a three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis. The process is non-invasive and intensively examines the entire bone formation, from a map of the most particular features to comparison with other fragments found.
The fragment was used as a high-resolution 3D scan used to study the found mandible and to reconstruct the missing parts. After that, the jaw was compared with that of Neanderthals and that of modern humans.
“Our results found something quite surprising,” he pointed out and concluded the analysis: Banyoles did not share distinct Neanderthal traits and did not overlap with Neanderthals in general form.”
The chin was the main part for reaching this conclusion, since the main characteristic of Homo sapiens, compared to other archaic humans, concerned the absent chin. Banyoles do not have Neanderthal characteristics, and the researchers concluded that the strange shape may be due to the fact that they belong to a hybrid individual.
Two possibilities are presented: Banyoles was a hybrid individual among Homo sapiens from an unknown group of humans that has not yet been identified, or it was a Homo sapiens from a group of unknown individuals that existed together with Neanderthals at the end of the Pleistocene in Europe .
“If Banyoles is indeed a member of our species, this prehistoric human would represent the first Homo sapiens ever documented in Europe,” says Keeling.