Paleoanthropology at the Gates of Europe

Despite long study, European paleoanthropology continues to produce unexpected and surprising findings. Such discoveries have radically changed our ideas about human presence in Europe. The former view of Europe as inhospitable to humans until 500 thousand years before present (ka) is now challenged by new evidence indicating colonization at just over one million years ago. Although this is a major breakthrough in European paleoanthropology, many questions remain about the identity of the earliest colonizers, their place of origin, their adaptations enabling their dispersal and their relationship to later hominins. After 500 ka the European fossil human record is more abundant, but still difficult to interpret: the number of species present and their relationship to each other and to African/Asian contemporaries is not well understood. Questions also arise with the advent of modern humans, Homo sapiens in Europe and the potential interaction between them and the Eurasian hominin Homo neanderthalensis.

In this discussion crucial information that would decisively help resolve these problems is lacking. Such evidence would come from the gateway through which both archaic and early modern people likely entered Europe, the southern part of the Balkan peninsula. This region lies directly on the most likely route of dispersal between Africa, W. Asia and Europe and is one of the three major European refugia for fauna, flora and likely also human populations during glacial periods. Paleoanthropological research in the area, however, has been sparse.

The PaGE Team, in collaboration with the Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology and Speleology of Southern Greece, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, conducted systematic, long term field exploration of selected localities in the Southern Balkans in order to help close this last research gap in European paleoanthropology and test our hypotheses about dispersals, refugia and systematics of European hominins. The research conducted in the framework of PaGE led to the discovery of several new Paleolithic and paleontological sites, including the Middle Pleistocene elephant butchering site Marathousa 1 in the Peloponnese.

PaGE also aimed to promote paleoanthropological and paleolithic research in this region, and to help develop communication and research connections among researchers working in paleoanthropology and paleolithic archaeology. To that aim, PaGE hosted the international symposium ‘Human Evolution in the Southern Balkans’, featuring invited speakers from Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, Romania, USA, Canada, France, the UK and Germany, on Dec. 6-8, 2012 in Tpbingen. The proceedings of this symposium were published as an in the Springer series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology, edited by K. Harvati and M. Roksandic.

The final PaGE symposium, held in December 2016 in Tübingen, brought together twenty six internal and external PaGE team members and showcased the research conducted in the framework of the project over the five year period 2012-2016. The presentations are planned to be published in a special issue of the journal Quaternary International, edited by K. Harvati, G. Konidaris and V. Tourloukis

For more information on the 2012 Symposium, click here.

For more information of the 2016 Symposium, click here.