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The relics of the earliest living human in Europe have been recently found in the Bone Cave of Caras-Severin County.

Photos taken by: (c) Paula NEAMTU / AGERPRES

The bones in question refer to the skull of ‘Vasile’, as it was named by those who have discovered it, but also to the jawbone of ‘Ion’, which American anthropologists have certified it dates back to nearly 40,000 years ago.

Three amateur cavers from Timisoara, Adrian Bilgar, Stefan Milota and Laurentiu Sarcina, have discovered, in 2002, a grotto that they have named the Bone Cave, due to the large number of animal fossils found here.

In one of the galleries, however, the three also found a fragment of a human jawbone, that still held in place five molars. The jawbone was taken to dr. Oana Teodora Moldovan, of the Emil Racovita Speleology Institute of the Romanian Academy who in turn gave it to renowned American anthropologist Erik Trinkauss of the Washington University, in order to perform carbon dating on the sample.

It was here that an entire team of researchers have certified that the mandible has an age of 36,000 carbon-years, which would translate to an age of 40,000 calendar years, belonging thus to the earliest living human in Europe. As such, the jawbone is 2,000 years older than the relics found in Spain that were considered, until recently, the oldest in Europe.

Once it was brought back to Romania, the researchers here have determined it belonged to an adult male between 35 and 40 years of age which they named ‘Ion’. This discovery has also represented the starting point of a more ample project of scientific research of the grotto.

It was this research that unearthed also the skull of an adolescent between 14 and 16 years old, later called ‘Vasile’, but also a bone from the temple of a woman, named later on ‘Maria’.

The Bone Cave is situated in the karstic system of the Minis Valley, on the right slope of it, between the Plopa and Ponor caves. Plotting this gallery system was no easy task, given the complexity of the karst system of which it is part. The research project was led by dr. Sorin M. Petrescu, the coordinator of the site, in his quality as expert archeologist of the Ministry of Culture.

“The Bone Cave is made up of approximately 12 galleries, yet we may mention specifically the Lair Gallery, the Ancestors’ Slope and the Mandible Hall. The human remains were discovered in the Mandible Hall and on the Ancestors’ Slope. In the 2005 campaign, we have continued the research on the surface open in 2004, practically, on the area that yielded the human remains in the previous year. The osteological material dislocated and the entire resulting sediment were transported outside the cave for cleaning and in order to do the specific analyses. The archeological situation is no different now than in 2004, practically, with no anthropic activity being observed in the cave (artefacts, coal, parietal art or any other signs)”, said Sorin M. Petrescu.

As such, once the campaign in 2005 ended, research in this point ended too, yet in order to understand the context in which these bones have ended up underground, attention must be granted to the superior levels of the karstic system, especially on those with Pleistocene fauna and apparently untouched sediment deposits.

“Obtaining these results and corroborating them with those of the 2004 campaign on one hand, and those obtained in other sites (Mladec, Cioclovina, Muierii Cave) on the other hand, will bring new proof regarding the moment the first modern humans came to Europe and their anatomy”, said Sorin M. Petrescu, a university professor of Romanian early history and archeology.

Until recently, the presence and biological characteristics of early modern humans of southeast Europe were hypothetical, based only on paleographic theories and unfounded assumptions, tied to associations between archeological complexes and human anatomy, to which few poorly dated paleontological data or hard-to-identify human remains were added. The discoveries of human remains of early humans in the Bone Cave in 2002, 2003, and 2004, offer a far better picture on the earliest modern humans in Europe. AGERPRES

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