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Homo Erectus: the First European

Homo Erectus: the First European

Stone tools found at Korolevo 

Stone tools can tell us a lot, but perhaps most importantly, these objects let us reconstruct the migrations of our early ancestors out of Africa. A recent reexamination of an archeological site in Korolevo, Ukraine supports the theory that the continent was settled from the east. These tools have been dated to 1.4 million years ago, making them the earliest such tools known to Europe. Additionally, the tools are the northernmost assemblage yet discovered and may provide a roadmap for discovering future sites.

The Korolevo site has been known since its first excavations in 1974 and appears to have been continually used as a toolmaking site for much of the Paleolithic Era. Findings at the site span multiple stone tool industries and include everything from precise stone flakes to more crude stone chopper tools. In spite of the thousands of specimens found at Korolevo, no fossils have been uncovered, but it was likely Homo erectus who fashioned the earliest stone tools at the site. If so, the earliest Europeans belonged to the first species of the Homo genus.

A stone tool chopper, similar to those found at Korolevo

While the Korolevo site has been known for half a century, the tools were thought to be far younger than their 1.4 million years. The study made the discovery by using surface exposure dating, a method used in geological studies. When cosmic rays strike the earth, they produce cosmogenic nuclide isotopes in rock that slowly decay over time, allowing geologists to estimate how old a given rock layer is. In the Korolevo case, that came out to roughly 1.4 million years, upending not only our understanding of the archeological site but early human history itself.

The findings at the Korolevo site are the northernmost tools yet found, suggesting Homo erectus was better suited to the cold conditions of the Pleistocene’s ice age than previously thought. It can be assumed that no such sites will be found to the north of Korolevo as much of northern Europe was covered in the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet, meaning any surviving tools are buried deep underground. With this information, scientists can speculate on where future such tools sites may be found, aiding in the reconstruction of the colonization of Europe by the earliest humans.

Interested in learning more about stone tools? You can read more at Mini Museum's Prehistoric Stone Tool Timeline and even get your hands on your own stone tool from the Paleolithic!

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