Peștera cu Oase

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Male Cro-Magnon skull

Peștera cu Oase (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈpeʃtera ku ˈo̯ase], meaning "The Cave with Bones") is a system of 12 karstic galleries and chambers located in southwestern Romania, where one of the oldest early modern human remains in Europe (37,800 years old) have been discovered.[1]

Paleoanthropological on-site findings[edit]

The cave[edit]

In February 2002, a speleological team exploring the karstic system of Miniș Valley, in the southwestern Carpathian Mountains near Anina, revealed a previously unknown chamber with a profusion of mammalian skeletal remains. The cave, which seemed to have served primarily as hibernation room for the Late Pleistocene cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), presented unusual arrangements such as the placement of some remains on raised rocks, suggesting a certain human involvement in the accumulated deposits. In fact, speleologists Ștefan Milota, Adrian Bîlgăr and Laurențiu Sarcina discovered a complete human mandible on the paleosurface. The karstic chamber was designated as "Peștera cu Oase" (The Cave with Bones) and the human mandible as "Oase 1".[2]

A mounted Neanderthal skeleton.

The latest radiocarbon dates give an age of 37,800 years BP.[1] From a location close to the Iron Gates in the Danubian corridor, it may represent one of the earliest modern human populations to have entered Europe.[3]

Oase 1[edit]

Against this background, particularly noteworthy is the fact that "Oase 1" exhibits morphological traits combining a variety of archaic Homo, derived early modern human, and possibly Neanderthal features.[4]

In June 2003 a further research team with Ștefan Milota, Ricardo Rodrigo and Mircea Gherase discovered additional human remains on the cave's surface. Thus, an entire anterior cranial skeleton was found along with a largely complete left temporal bone and a number of frontal, parietal and occipital bone segments.

Oase 2 and 3[edit]

While "Oase 1" lower jaw is fully mature, the facial skeleton is that of a mid-second decade adolescent, therefore corresponding to a second individual, designated as "Oase 2". Further analyses have revealed that the left temporal bone represents a third individual, assessed as adolescent versus mature female, designated as "Oase 3".[2] However, additional finds and work have shown that the temporal bone derives from the same cranium as the "Oase 2" facial and parietal bones.[5] The lack of archaeological signs such as torches, charcoal or tools could suggest that the human remains may have washed in the cave through fissures.

The "Oase 2" and "Oase 3" confirm a pattern already known from the probably contemporaneous "Oase 1" mandible,[2] indicating a mixture of archaic, early modern human and Neanderthal morphological features. Thus, the specimens exhibit a suite of derived "modern human" features like projecting chin, no brow ridge, a high and rounded brain case. Yet, these features are associated with several archaic aspects of the cranium and dentition that place them outside the range of variation for modern humans, like a large face, a large crest of bone behind the ear and big teeth that get even larger toward the back. This mosaic of Neanderthal and modern human resembles similar traits found in a 25,000 years old fossil of a child in Abrigo do Lagar Velho or in the 31,000 years old site of Mladeč, by Cidália Duarte, et al. (1999).

Current research[edit]

Peștera cu Oase is subject to ongoing investigation. The on-site findings from the 2005 campaign are currently cross-examined at the Romanian "Emil Racoviță" Institute of Speleology, Australian National University, (electron spin resonance and uranium-series dating on 21 bone/tooth samples and 29 associated sediment samples), University of Bristol, (uranium-series analysis on 22 bone samples), University of Bergen, (uranium-series dating on 7 samples), University of Oxford (AMS radiocarbon dating on 8 bone/tooth samples), Max Planck Institute (stable isotope analysis and ancient DNA on 37 bone/tooth samples), University of Vienna (AMS radiocarbon dating on 25 bone/tooth samples).

A skull found in Peștera cu Oase in 2004/5 bears features of both modern humans and Neanderthals. According to a paper by Erik Trinkaus and others, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January, 2007, this finding suggests that the two groups interbred thousands of years ago. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the skull is 37,800 years old, making it amongst the oldest modern human fossils ever found in Europe.[1]

Implications for research[edit]

The marked contrast between the morphological modernity of "early modern" humans and even late "classical Neanderthal" trait-packages,[6] as well as mitochondrial aDNA differences have suggested a major physical anthropological discontinuity and hence, a complete population replacement at the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition, leading to what one might call "Out of Africa with Complete Replacement" model.

However, more recent direct dating of fossils has demonstrated that early modern human remains were instead of the mid/late Holocene, hence much younger than supposed.[7]

Vindija Cave in Croatia.

In this context, the particular importance of the "Peștera cu Oase" findings resides both in the mixture of modern human and archaic (Neanderthal) features and in the fact that they are sufficiently complete to be taxonomically diagnosed and directly dated. Thus, the Oase fossils overlap in time for some 3000 years with late Neanderthals like those of Vindija Cave (Croatia) dated to ~32,000 radiocarbon years BP or less for Arcy-sur-Cure (France) at ~34,000 radiocarbon years BP. Besides, the notion that the Oase people are very close to the time of contact with Neanderthals is consistent with their archaic traits, and finds additional support in the patterns of spatio-temporal distribution of the latest Neanderthal remains.[3]

Since genetics does not reject the hypothesis of a Neanderthal-modern admixture, and morphological and archaeological evidence suggest that Neanderthal lineages survived into later Upper Paleolithic populations, "Peștera cu Oase" findings provide a strong argument in favor of an admixture model between regional Neanderthals and early modern humans.

Arguing with chronological overlapping and morphological blending, this model assumes significant Neandertal/modern human admixture,[8] suggesting that already on their arrival in Europe, modern humans met, intermixed and interbred with Neanderthals.[9]

Basically, the multiregional evolution model suggests that:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Wilford, John Noble (2 Nov 2011). "Fossil Teeth Put Humans in Europe Earlier Than Thought". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  2. ^ a b c Trinkaus, E., Milota, Ș., Rodrigo, R., Gherase, M., Moldovan, O. (2003), Early Modern Human Cranial remains from the Peștera cu Oase, Romania, Journal of Human Evolution, 45:245 –253
  3. ^ a b c Zilhão, J. (2006). "Neandertals and Moderns Mixed and It Matters". Evolutionary Anthropology 15 (5): 183–195. doi:10.1002/evan.20110. 
  4. ^ Trinkaus, E.; Moldovan, O.; Milota, Ș.; Bîlgăr, A.; Sarcina, L.; Athreya, S.; Bailey, S. E.; Rodrigo, R. et al. (2003). "An early modern human from Peștera cu Oase, Romania". PNAS 100 (20): 11231–11236. Bibcode:2003PNAS..10011231T. doi:10.1073/pnas.2035108100. PMC 208740. PMID 14504393. 
  5. ^ Trinkaus, E., Zilhão, J., Rougier, H., Rodrigo, R., Milota, S., Gherase, M., Sarcinã, L., Moldovan, O., Bãltean, I., Codrea, V., Bailey, S. E., Franciscus, R. G., Ponce de Léon, M., Zollikofer, C. P. E. (2006) The Peștera cu Oase and early modern humans in Southeastern Europe. In N.J. Conard (Ed.), When Neanderthals and modern humans met, pp. 145-164. Tübingen: Kerns Verlag
  6. ^ Ponce, De, León, Ms; Zollikofer, Cp (Aug 2001). "Neanderthal cranial ontogeny and its implications for late hominid diversity". Nature 412 (6846): 534–8. doi:10.1038/35087573. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 11484052. 
  7. ^ Mellars, P (Feb 2006). "A new radiocarbon revolution and the dispersal of modern humans in Eurasia". Nature 439 (7079): 931–5. Bibcode:2006Natur.439..931M. doi:10.1038/nature04521. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 16495989. 
  8. ^ Soficaru, A.; Dobo, A.; Trinkaus, E. (2006). "Early modern humans from the Peștera Muierii, Baia de Fier, Romania". PNAS 103 (46): 17196–17201. Bibcode:2006PNAS..10317196S. doi:10.1073/pnas.0608443103. PMC 1859909. PMID 17085588. 
  9. ^ Trinkaus, Erik (2005). "Early Modern Humans". Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 207. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.34.030905.154913. 

Coordinates: 45°01′N 21°50′E / 45.017°N 21.833°E / 45.017; 21.833