Fragmentary bone fossils and a molar found in Bulgaria dated to roughly 45,000 years ago show that Homo sapiens populations swept into Europe earlier than previously known.
Researchers said DNA from the five fossils from Bulgaria’s Bacho Kiro cave demonstrated they belonged to anatomically modern Homo sapiens.
Evidence from other sites suggests the people at Bacho Kiro cave were part of a “pioneer” wave of Homo sapiens that entered southern and central Europe up to 47,000 years ago from southwest Asia.
The research pushes back by thousands of years the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe, a milestone in the history of a species that arose in Africa about 300,000 years ago and then spread worldwide.
Human remains from the cave range from 43,000 to 46,000 years old while associated artifacts were up to 47,000 years old.
Neanderthals - more robustly built than Homo sapiens - had already inhabited Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. The new findings indicate the two species overlapped for perhaps 8,000 years before the Neanderthals went extinct.
Bead made of mammoth ivory and the bear-tooth pendants. Those pendants have striking similarities to ones made later by Neanderthals in Western Europe, indicating our closest evolutionary cousins adopted aspects of Homo sapiens culture.
The cause of Neanderthals' extinction is a matter of much debate. One of the possibilities is that our species wiped them out after thousands of years of interaction, including interbreeding which left an indelible mark on the human genome.