Science  10 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6095, pp. 630

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  1. The Mysterious Affair at Kents Cavern

    Last year, researchers reported that an upper jawbone found in 1927 in the United Kingdom's Kents Cavern is the oldest modern human fossil in Europe. But a new study argues that the date of the bone may never be certain.

    After dating animal bones found above and below the fossil, Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford and colleagues reported that the jawbone is between 41,500 and 44,000 years old, and belonged to a modern human rather than a Neandertal.

    Kents Cavern


    But in a new paper in press, Paul Pettitt of the University of Sheffield and Mark White of Durham University blast Higham's results, saying it's unclear exactly where the jawbone was originally found.

    Apart from the Kents Cavern fossil and some disputed Italian teeth, the oldest human fossils in Europe, found in Romania, are about 40,000 years old. If modern humans made it to Northwest Europe by 41,500 years ago or earlier, they would've entered Europe much sooner than thought and moved rapidly. The overlap between modern humans and Neandertals, who were already in Europe, would also increase.

    Higham and his colleagues reject the critique that they may have misunderstood the cave's stratigraphy. Taking movement into account, they note, they still came out with dates of at least 41,000 years.