Stone tools discovered in Ukraine bring new evidence of the presence of people in Europe, 1.4 million years ago

A dating method based on cosmic radiation has established that stone tools discovered in the Transcarpathian region (Ukraine) are the oldest evidence of human presence in Europe – 1.4 million years ago.

The oldest evidence of human presence in Europe PHOTO Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project

This proves that the continent was populated several hundred thousand years earlier than previously thought, informs Reuters.

Researchers said on Wednesday that the stone tools – the most primitive type of tools – were originally unearthed in the 1970s near the town of Korolevo (Transcarpathia region), located at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains along the Tisa River, close to Ukraine's border with Romania and Hungary. But the age of these tools was uncertain.

The new method determined the age of the sediment layer that contained the stone tools, and as a result, this site has become essential for understanding how the first humans spread across Europe during the warm periods – called interglacials – that separated consecutive glaciations. in the Ice Age on this continent.

The researchers concluded that the tools were probably made by Homo erectus, a species of hominid that appeared about 2 million years ago and spread across Africa, Asia and Europe before disappearing probably 110,000 years ago .

No bones were found in Korolevo, only stone tools. But the age suggests that Homo erectus was the most likely human species at the time. We know very little about our first ancestors. They used stone tools to slaughter animals and probably used fire“, said archaeologist Roman Garba, from the Czech Academy of Sciences, the main author of the study published in Nature magazine.

The dawn of human technology

Homo erectus is the first member of our genealogy to have similar body proportions to our species, Homo sapiens, but to have a smaller brain.

The tools, made of volcanic rock, were made in a style known as Oldowan. Although they were quite simple – flake tools such as choppers, scrapers or primitive cutting tools – they represent the dawn of human technology.

Until now, the oldest known evidence of human presence in Europe was 1.2 – 1.1 million years old and came from a site called Atapuerca, located in Spain.

The Korolevo discoveries provide information about the route of the first human expansion into Europe. Homo erectus fossils from 1.8 million years ago were found at a site in the Caucasus region of Georgia called Dmanisi. Together with the Korolevo findings, it suggests that Homo erectus entered Europe from the east or southeast, migrating along the Danube, Garba said.

Korolevo is the northernmost outpost of the presumed Homo erectus discovered so far and is proof of the courage shown by this ancestor“, added John Jansen, specialist in geosciences at the Czech Academy of Sciences and co-author of the study.

It has been very difficult to determine the age of Paleolithic sites such as Korolevo. The study dated the tools, left by their makers on a riverbed, by determining when the layer that included the artifacts was buried beneath the overlying sediments.

What does cosmic ray dating mean?

The Earth is constantly bombarded by galactic cosmic radiation. When these rays – mainly protons and alpha particles – penetrate the Earth's atmosphere, they generate a second shower of particles – neutrons and muons – which in turn penetrate the surface“, explained geoscience specialist and study co-author Mads Knudsen, from Aarhus University in Denmark.

These particles interact with minerals in rocks and produce radioactive nuclides, a class of atoms. The sediment was dated based on the ratio of two nuclides, thanks to their different rates of radioactive decay.

Europe was later colonized by other now extinct hominid species including Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthal Man. Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 300,000 years ago, reaching significant numbers in Europe possibly around 40,000-45,000 years ago.

Homo erectus pioneers found a Europe populated by large mammals such as mammoths, rhinoceroses, hippos, hyenas and smilodons.

Most likely they were scavengers, looking for carcasses left by hyenas and other predators, but what attracted them to Korolevo was a source of high-quality volcanic rock, very good for making stone tools.”Garba said.

Researchers believe that evidence of human presence in Europe even older than Korolevo will emerge.

The question is not 'if' but 'when' we will discover a site of similar or older age elsewhere in Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria or Serbia”Garba said.