|Location||On western Mani Peninsula, west of Areopoli, southern Greece|
|Geology||Karstic cave in the limestone cliffside|
|A, B, C, D|
|Access||Only by boat|
The Apidima Cave (Greek: Σπήλαιο Απήδημα, Spilaio Apidima) is a complex of four small caves located on the western shore of Mani Peninsula in southern Greece. A systematic investigation of the cave has yielded Neanderthal and Homo sapiens fossils from the Palaeolithic era.
One skull fossil, given the name Apidima 1, shows a mixture of modern human and primitive features and has been dated to be more than 210,000 years old, older than a Neanderthal skull ("Apidima 2") found at the cave, which per some interpretations makes Apidima 1 the oldest proof of Homo sapiens living outside Africa, the second oldest being the maxilla from Misliya cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, with a maximum age of about 190,000 years ago. Apidima 1 is more than 150,000 years older than previous H. sapiens finds in Europe.
The Apidima Cave complex consists of karstic caves formed in the limestone cliffside on the west shore of the Mani Peninsula in southern Greece. Today the caves open on the face of a large sea cliff and are only accessible by boat, but during the ice ages the sea level went lower by more than 100 m (330 ft), and several seashore caves around the world, today submerged or situated at the wave zone—Apidima Cave belonging to the latter category—rose well above the water surface and were occupied by early people.
The complex consists of four small caves, designated "A", "B", "C" and "D". It was formed by erosion within the Middle Triassic to Late Eocene limestone of depth 500 m (1,600 ft), from 4–24 m (13–79 ft) above sea level, in a vertical zone of depth 20 m (66 ft). The development of the caves is due to the vertical strikes of the limestone, while the horizontal opening is made by the sea.
The scientific research programme at Apidima began in 1978 and is being conducted by the National Archaeological Museum of Greece in collaboration with the Laboratory of Historical Geology-Palaeontology of Athens University, the Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploitation and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Approximately 20,000 bones, bone fragments, and teeth from various fauna have been collected since 1978 from this site by Theodore Pitsios and his team. There are a few animal specimens with probable traces of butchering. The two Homo fossils were excavated from the thick and cohesive breccia 4 m (13 ft) above sea level.
Finding of fossils
Researchers uncovered two significant fossils in Apidima Cave "A" in 1978. The two fossils are now referred to as Apidima 1 and Apidima 2. Stone tools were found in all four caves. Research published in July 2019 indicates that the Apidima 2 skull fragment (designated LAO 1/S2) has Neanderthal morphology, and using uranium-thorium dating, was found to be more than 170,000 years old. The Apidima 1 skull fossil (designated LAO 1/S1) was found to be older, dated—using the same method—to more than 210,000 years old.
Homo sapiens hypothesis
In 2019 study a research team proposed a hypothesis these Hominids present a mixture of modern human and primitive features. This makes Apidima 1 the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens outside Africa, more than 150,000 years older than previous H. sapiens finds in Europe. The lead researcher, Katerina Harvati, summarized, "Our results suggest that at least two groups of people lived in the Middle Pleistocene in what is now southern Greece: an early Homo sapiens population, followed by a Neanderthal population." Harvati said that the team would attempt to extract ancient DNA from the fossils, but that she was not optimistic about finding any. If sufficient specimens can be obtained, a palaeoproteomic analysis of ancient proteins may also be done on the fossils.
Homo erectus hypothesis
In 2020 publication another research group concluded that the anatomical features of both skulls show they can be attributed to the group of evolved European Homo erectus hominins, with some early Neanderthal features, similar to the skulls of Sima de los Huesos, Swanscombe, Biache-Saint-Vaast and Lazaret, but they can be differentiated from the classical Neanderthals.
- Early human migrations
- List of human evolution fossils
- Misliya cave
- Prehistory of Southeastern Europe
- Apidima Cave - location.
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