Remains of first modern humans in Europe found

The discovery may change what we know about early humans in Europe.

Remains of first modern humans in Europe found
  • Newly found human remains in Bulgaria have pushed back the date of Homo sapiens arriving in Europe by thousands of years.
  • The site was also littered with animal remains and stone tools.
  • These humans were not part of the tool-making culture that replaced the Neanderthals, leaving the fate of the discovered group a mystery.

Scientists working in a cave in Bulgaria have discovered bone fragments of the first examples of Homo sapiens to tread the European continent. Dating back to around 45,000 years ago, this new record holder beats the previous one by two and a half thousand years. While the residents of Bacho Kiro Cave don't appear to have stayed in Europe for long, they may have left an influence felt long after they departed.

The first modern humans in Europe?

One of the more popular models for the spread of anatomically modern humans out of Africa suggests that they reached the Middle East 50,000 years ago and then began to move into Europe. This discovery lends weight to that theory, as it would fit the timeline very nicely.

The cave also had a variety of stone tools and ornaments inside. These were made from quality flint brought with them over great distances and refined in ways particular to the Initial Upper Paleolithic time frame, giving even more evidence of exactly when these people lived.

The similarities between some of the ornaments found, including jewelry made from animal teeth, to items found at Neanderthal sites from thousands of years later led the authors to speculate that these first arrivals from the Middle East may have influenced the Neanderthals.

Of course, you mustn't forget Neanderthals were already doing their own thing for a while, including making tools and jewelry. While it is possible that the newcomers influenced them, it is also possible that they weren't. As the Neanderthals were ultimately replaced by later arriving Homo-Sapiens, known as the Aurignacian culture, this new group may have been a mere blip on their Paleolithic radar.

There is also the highly controversial claim that a 210,000-year-old skull belonging to an anatomically modern human was found in Greece a while back. However, that finding was unable to confirm exactly what species the skull in question belonged to.

The Bulgarian discovery also adds a curious chapter into human history, as the members of this group were not members of the group of modern humans that ultimately replaced the Neanderthals, albeit with some interbreeding with their neighbors. That latter group dates back to 43,000 years ago at most, meaning that the residents of Bacho Kiro Cave were a few thousand years too early to the party.

For whatever reason, their attempt to move into Europe was either a failure, too limited in size and scope to be part of the replacement of the Neanderthals, or was somehow otherwise unable to gain a foothold on the continent. Finding out why this is will be a very interesting topic for future research.

Perhaps they only found Europe to be a nice place to visit.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
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