08.05.2019 change 08.05.2019
Szymon Zdziebłowski
Szymon Zdziebłowski

Polish archaeologists have discovered an unknown migration route of homo erectus from Africa

In the Eastern Desert in Sudan, Polish archaeologists have found 500,000 years old traces of the presence of Homo erectus. According to the discoverers, it is a proof of existence of an unknown migration route of this species beyond the continent.

The African variety of Homo erectus (upright man) - the ancestor of modern man (Homo sapiens) - appeared in Africa about 1.8 million years ago, from where it quickly migrated to Eurasia. These migrations took place in stages.

The eastern Africa is considered the cradle of humanity. The oldest traces of human activity in the form of stone tools have been discovered along the Great Rift Valley, which stretches from Mozambique through Tanzania to the coast of the Red Sea in the region of Eritrea and Ethiopia. In terms of research on the oldest traces of man, the area farther to the north of Africa - the Eastern Desert in Sudan - is somewhat forgotten. Polish archaeologists decided to focus on this area. The project funded by the National Science Centre involves scientists from Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Germany and the US.

"We have found 500,000 years old traces of the presence of Homo erectus - a total of more than a thousand stone products including characteristic hand axes, which proves the existence of a previously unknown migration route of this species beyond the African continent, probably along Red Sea coasts" - says the research project leader Prof. Mirosław Masojć from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wroclaw. He adds that these are by far the oldest traces of human presence in this part of North-East Africa.

Up to now, the prevailing views were that H. erectus moved north mainly along the Nile Valley.

The researcher adds that although today the study area is a flat and inhospitable desert, hundreds of thousands of years ago there were periods of a much more humid climate. There was vegetation and rivers - their dried beds indicate the course towards the north-east, towards the Red Sea.

Discoveries in the Eastern Desert also confirm the long coexistence of Homo erectus with Homo sapiens in Africa: it is a period of at least 100,000. years, between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. Both species lived there simultaneously, although one gave birth to the other.

Homo erectus migrations

Homo erectus migrations from Africa. Source: PAP Infographics

The discovery of over half a million years old stone tools was made accidentally in recent years. "There was a gold rush in the eastern part of Sudan, in the Eastern Desert, as in many places in the Sahara - people looking for this precious metal in makeshift, open-cast mines. By uncovering successive layers, miners came across tools from several hundred thousand years ago" - says Prof. Masojć.

Alerted by reports of unusual finds, archaeologists set out into the field. "We work in the mines after miners have already left them, so there is no conflict of interest" - the scientist adds.

So far, researchers have found almost 200 places where Palaeolithic stone products have been preserved. Some of them are located in mines, about 350 km north of Khartoum. The archaeologists find various tools used both by Homo erectus - hand axes and pebble tools, and by Homo sapiens - for example blades. Ancient people used mainly quartzite and volcanic rocks. The age of the tools ranges from more than half a million to 60,000 years. "It would not be possible to find these traces without mining operations" - the archaeologist says.

The first results of the project have just been published in the Journal of Human Evolution (DOI: 10.1016 / j.jhevol.2019.01.014). Additional information about the project can be found at: http://sudan.archeo.uni.wroc.pl/

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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