A large international steam of researchers including the esteemed anthropologist Dr. Rolf Quam of Binghamton University and lead Portuguese archaeologist Joao Zilhao have discovered the OLDEST FOSSIL HUMAN CRANIUM in Portugal. Rock and sediments in which the cranium was found date at between 390-436 kya which places it in the Middle Pleistocene. This is now considered to be the oldest fossil of any human ancestor found inside Portugal. The cranium is being called the “Aroeira 3 Cranium.”

Cranium, handaxes, and stone tools found at the site in Portugal

The cranium was discovered amid scattered fossilized animal remains and some of them were partially burned indicating fire use and cooking.  Stone tools were also found at the site including handaxes (bifaces).  Many of these stone tools are some of the earliest evidence of stone tool use in the whole of Europe.  The stone tools are of the Acheulean type stone tool industry.

“This is an interesting new fossil discovery from the Iberian Peninsula, a crucial region for understanding the origin and evolution of NEANDERTHALS,” said Dr Quam.  He also noted that the cranium shares some features with other fossils from the same period found in Spain, France, and Italy.  The Aroeria Cranium, thus, increases our knowledge about the anatomical diversity in the human fossil record from this era and shows different populations had different combinations of features.  In other words, NEANDERTHAL WERE NOT ALL THE SAME!!  And this is EXACTLY what I would expect to see in a species that is the result of hybridization!

The discovery of the cranium was actually made 2 years ago but it has taken this long to extract it from the rock it was firmly cemented in.  The extraction was done by a lab in Madrid.  The study appears in the publication from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is entitled “New Middle Pleistocene hominin cranium from the Gruta da Areoia (Portugal).