Scientists have unearthed a series of fossils that place humans in Europe far earlier than previously believed.
Scientists discovered two infant teeth from Italy they estimate are between 43,000 and 45,000 years old, and a jawbone with three teeth from England between 41,500 and 44,200 years old. The study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, finds that the teeth are the oldest known modern human remains in Europe.
Previously, the first known modern humans in Europe came from Romania and dated to 40,000 years ago. Having discovered stone tools and other artifacts, scientists have long suspected that modern human settled the continent between 42,000 and 44,000 years ago.
Dating the fossils required the latest technology. Scientists turned to radiocarbon dating of shell bead ornaments from the same Italian site because the teeth were too small to directly analyze.
The new analysis determined the jaw bone discovered by scientists belonged to an early modern human who lived between 44,200-41,500 years ago in what is now close to the United Kingdom.
The new results indicate, too, that modern humans swept across Europe via a number of different routes, as they populated the world after leaving Africa some 60,000 years ago. The new dating is helping scientists identify how quickly modern humans spread across Europe during the last Ice Age, and is seen as possible confirmation of the controversial theory that early modern humans coexisted with Neanderthals.