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Cave Beneath German Castle Reveals Bones and Tools That Show Early Humans Thrived in Cold Climates

Bones Found in German Cave Reveal Secrets of Early Humans
Source: MEGA

Scientists say bones found in a German cave have taught them a lot about early humans.

Apr. 19 2024, Published 9:03 a.m. ET

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Could a group of bones lying inside a cave below a German castle hold secrets of the earliest humans? Some researchers think so.

Researchers discovered genetic material from cave bears and hyenas and 13 bones of early humans who died off approximately 45,000 years ago that revealed new information on the whereabouts of our ancestors.

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According to NBC News, the findings — which were described in three papers published in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution — showed that early humans ventured farther north than previously thought.

The findings also revealed that the earliest humans could craft spear-shaped tools and they found a way to survive and thrive in temperatures a lot colder than we encounter today.

“These are among the earliest Homo sapiens in Europe,” Elena Zavala, co-author of the Nature paper and a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Hill.

The discoveries, thanks to DNA technology, are changing scientists' perceptions of Neanderthals and the first humans roaming Europe.

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“Because of the age of this site and location, we know Neanderthals and humans quite definitively had a large overlap,” Zavala told NBC News.

Scientists believe the findings could help them piece together the puzzle of how Neanderthals went extinct and what role — if any — humans played in it.

John Hawks, a University of Wisconsin, Madison paleoanthropologist who studies ancient human relatives but was not involved in this research, told NBC News that the bones and DNA will help researchers better understand the interaction between Neanderthals and early humans.

“These groups are exploring. They’re going to new places. They live there for a while. They have lifestyles that are different,” he said of the early humans. “They’re comfortable moving into areas where there were Neanderthals.”

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The contents inside the Ilsenhöhle cave, which was buried under the Ranis Castle, were previously nearly impossible to unearth. Archaeologists attempted to gain access to the cave in the 1920s and 1930s, but they ran into a 5-foot-thick rock that stopped their progress.

But in 2016, archaeologists used modern digging technology to unearth the contents, which were then examined.

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“Finding human remains mixed with animal bones that had been stored for almost a century was an unexpected and fantastic surprise,” Hélène Rougier, a paleoanthropologist at California State University, Northridge, said in a news release, according to NBC News.

DNA analysis showed that the bone fragments were from humans, and some were from members of the same family. Test results on the animal bones confirmed that the humans were living in temperatures comparable to those of modern-day Siberia.

“These early modern people seem to have mastered or put together a cultural package that let them succeed at northern latitudes better than Neanderthals had done,” Hawks said.

The fact that the early humans were using leaf-point technology suggests they were more civilized than previously thought.

“It’s a thoroughly skilled process to make those things,” Hawks said of leaf points, which are flakes of rock thinned into the shape of an olive leaf. “The fact that people invested the energy to make that beautiful thing — tells us about their social system. It tells us they were not living hand to mouth. They had time to invest.”


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