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experts identify rare 450,000-year-old piece of bone

The piece of bone, considered “very rare”, dating back 450,000 years, was found in the famous cave of Tautavel, a major prehistoric site located in the Pyrénées-Orientales. It was identified as belonging to a human being, we learned from the site’s research center on Wednesday.

It is a piece of fibula a little less than six centimeters in length, found 18 years ago, archaeologist Christian Perrenoud, responsible for research on this systematically excavated site, told AFP. since 1964. According to him, “It is very rare to find human bones from this period, in particular because the men who lived more than 100,000 years ago did not bury their dead”.

Also, it is difficult to know if a piece as small as this piece of fibula belongs to a human being. “When you have a piece that is 40 centimeters long, you will tell yourself right away” that it probably belonged to a human. “But when you have a small piece that is a few centimeters, knowing that there are 122 fossil species described in the cave, we are very careful before claiming that it comes from man”, stresses Christian Perrenoud. This is one of the reasons why “we put 18 years” to identify it: “You have to check it, see that it comes from humans and not from another animal”.

This verification is made in particular by various comparisons with the skeleton of the current man, which still resembles his distant ancestors despite everything, but also with other bones already identified as being human. “In this case, it’s a fragment of fibula. We have others in the site with which we could compare it. We even have another piece that could belong to the same individual.”, he clarified.

On the other hand, no DNA research is possible on such ancient fossils. “We are not yet able to go beyond 80,000 years maximum with DNA, even if there are examples in Spain where we have managed to go a little further”, he added.

The Caune de l’Arago, or Tautavel cave, about twenty kilometers north-west of Perpignan, has already yielded a very large number of fossils which have made it possible to reconstruct the evolution of faunas, flora, landscapes and Mediterranean climates from 100,000 to 700,000 years ago.

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