A new article provides insights in the life and craftsmanship of the earliest modern humans in Europe around 40 thousand years ago, allowing an important glimpse into how early Homo sapiens adapted to their environment on the newly populated continent. The study, which was published in Nature: Scientific Reports’, reports on recent excavations in western Romania at Româneşti, one of the most important sites in southeastern Europe associated with the earliest Homo sapiens. The excavation was led by archaeologist Dr Wei Chu from the University of Cologne (Germany) and Leiden University (Netherlands) with contributions by Dr Jacopo Gennai from the University of Cologne (Germany) and University of Pisa (Italy).
Many early Homo sapiens fossils have been found in southeastern Europe, presumably because they first entered the continent through the Balkan Peninsula. Still, few Homo sapiens fossils have been found in association with cultural remains. Româneşti, however, offers numerous artefacts and is therefore an important window into observing how the first European Homo sapiens coped with their new environments.
The researchers found that artefacts at Româneşti were geared towards producing highly standardized chipped stone bladelets that could have been used as inserts for arrows or spears. Also, particular grindstones might have been used to straighten wooden shafts, suggesting that Româneşti was a kind of a projectile workshop. This is further corroborated by microscopic analyses of the artefact surfaces, which demonstrate that most of them were not used. This suggests that the site may have been used as a place for manufacturing tools that were later transported offsite.
Thousands of artefacts, some of which must have been carried to the site from over 300 km away based on geochemical evidence, combined with evidence for onsite fire use demonstrate that Româneşti was an important place in the landscape. Apparently, the early Homo sapiens of the area repeatedly returned to it.
The results of the large lithic assemblages and their high-quality contexts from the new excavations at Româneşti indicate changes in the ways Homo sapiens subsisted compared to Neanderthals, helping to explain their success. ‘Nearby contemporary fossils indicate that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals were interbreeding, but we still don’t know what that means for the ways in which their mutual lifestyles were changing and how we can see that in their archaeological remains,’ said Dr Jacopo Gennai of the University of Cologne’s Institute of Archaeology. ‘The next step is to try to elaborate on the relationship of these early Homo sapiens to earlier Neanderthals.’