By
The Associated Press
updated 9/22/2003 1:14:23 PM ET 2003-09-22T17:14:23

The jawbone of a caveman living in what is now Romania is the oldest fossil from an early modern human to be found in Europe, U.S. researchers said Monday. Primitive features such as heavy bone and tooth structure also support the controversial idea that Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals may have interbred, the researchers said.

InsertArt(2021437)THE JAWBONE, found in southwestern Carpathian Mountains of Romania, was carbon-dated to between 34,000 and 36,000 years ago, said Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, who led the study.

That makes it “the oldest definite early modern human specimen in Europe and provides perspectives on the emergence and evolution of early modern humans in the northwestern Old World,” Trinkaus and colleagues wrote in their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The jawbone was found in 2002 in Pestera cu Oase, which means “cave with bones”. Details can be seen on the Internet at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/anthro/blurb/b-trink.html.

“The jawbone is the oldest directly dated modern human fossil,” Trinkaus, a leading expert on early humans, said in a telephone interview.

“Taken together, the material is the first that securely documents what modern humans looked like when they spread into Europe. Although we call them ’modern humans,’ they were not fully modern in the sense that we think of living people,” he added.

“They are all dirty and smelly and all that sort of stuff. The basic facial shape would have been like ours but from the cheeks on down they would have looked very large.”

The jawbone is similar to those of other early modern humans found in Africa, the Middle East and later in Europe. But the molars are unusually big and proportioned in a way that makes them look different — almost Neanderthal, said Trinkaus.

Trinkaus is a leading proponent of the controversial theory that early modern humans and Neanderthals interbred to some extent. The two subspecies of Homo sapiens lived side-by-side in Europe for thousands of years and evidence suggests some trade or other contact.

“The specimens suggest that there have been clear changes in human anatomy since then,” said Trinkaus.

“The bones are also fully compatible with the blending of modern human and Neanderthal populations,” he said.

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