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January 12th, 2007

Earliest evidence of modern humans in Europe discovered by international team

An international team of researchers, including John Hoffecker, has reported evidence of modern humans in central Russia as early as anywhere in northern Eurasia. The finds were made at Kostenki on the Don River, approximately 250 miles south of Moscow, where more than 25 open-air archaeological sites have been under investigation for many decades. The new research at Kostenki was funded primarily by National Science Foundation grants to INSTAAR with John Hoffecker serving as principal investigator. Kostenki yielded artifacts of bone, antler, ivory, and shell, along with stone tools, buried below a volcanic tephra that is dated to roughly 40,000 years ago. Although associated human remains are confined to isolated teeth, the artifacts found—which include materials transported from distant sources and a possible figurine fragment—probably were made by modern humans. The age of the artifacts is supported by paleomagnetic stratigraphy, luminescence dating, and calibrated radiocarbon dates. The earliest occupations at Kostenki appear to be roughly 45,000 years old. The unexpectedly early presence of modern humans—recently derived from lower latitudes—in one of the coolest and driest parts of mid-latitude Europe, may reflect the absence of a potentially competing Neandertal population in central Russia at this time. Kostenki also reveals evidence for a broadening of the diet, presumably with the use of new technologies, to include small mammals, and eventually freshwater aquatic foods. In addition to INSTAAR, the international team comprised researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences, University of Arizona, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Boston University.

Results are published in the Jan. 12, 2007 issue of Science.

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