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German Cave Re-Writes History of Humans in Europe

New discovery places Homo sapiens in central Europe far earlier than previously thought.

Ilsenhöhle cave
Ilsenhöhle cave, under Ranis castle.

The Ilsenhöhle cave, located a couple of hundred miles southwest of the German capital Berlin, is a narrow cavern punched by natural forces into a cliff face on top of which proudly sits the castle and the village of Ranis.

At first glance, there’s nothing particularly special about the cave, but archaeologists have just made a remarkable discovery here. A discovery that has totally reshaped our view on the history of humans and when Homo sapiens first arrived in central Europe.

In the 1930s archaeologists excavated the cave and found artefacts and bones from Neanderthal man dating back to around 43,000 years ago. Now, new excavations in the cave by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and whose findings have just been published in the journal Nature, has turned up something wholly unexpected.

Fossils and artefacts dating back even further to 47,500 years ago that came not from Neanderthals but from Homo sapiens. And this discovery means that Homo sapiens made it to central Europe far earlier than previously thought and that they lived here side by side with Neanderthals.

"This fundamentally changes our previous knowledge about this time period: Homo sapiens reached northwestern Europe long before Neanderthal disappearance in southwestern Europe", said Jean-Jacques Hublin, a professor in palaeoanthropology at Collège de France.


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