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A team of paleoanthropologists have unearthed a human fossil that is estimated to be around 1.4 million years old. The fossil was found at the Sima del Elefante archaeological site in Spain during excavations on June 30. The fossil contains fragments of a human skull and is said to be the oldest ever found in Europe, according to Atapuerca Foundation.
The discovery was made at the TE7 level of the Sima del Elefante cave site. Edgar Tellez, a doctoral student at the National Center for Research on Human Evolution, first spotted the cheekbone that appeared in the clay. Following this, he noticed the maxilla — the bone which forms the upper jaw — emerging from the soil.
Before this, the human fossils found from level 9 or TE9 of the site in 2007 were the oldest. The fossils consisted of a jaw and some other bone fragments. They belonged to two individuals who lived some 1.2 million years ago. The find was exceptionally rare and researchers could not figure out which group they belonged to. The fragments were, hence, put in the Homo category, in which the modern humans or Homo sapiens fall.
The recently discovered fossil was found at a lower level than the 2007 discovery. The jaw found at the TE9 level had a modern feature on the chin. Now, researchers believe that the new fossil could be related to the older one. In addition, it could belong to one of the first populations that ever lived in Europe.
Researchers hope that an analysis of the new fossil can give them better insight into the evolution of the human race outside Africa. Moreover, it will allow them to make a detailed comparison between the recently found fossil and the Homo antecessor, which was unearthed decades ago and whose age was estimated to be 8,50,000 years.