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Cold, lonely place suited early humans

Migrants from Africa may have settled in what is now Russia because of the lack of competitors.

January 13, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Carved tools and ornaments from Russia paint a rare picture of the time about 45,000 years ago when modern humans migrated out of Africa to colonize Europe, researchers reported Friday in the journal Science.

"The big surprise here is the very early presence of modern humans in one of the coldest, driest places in Europe," said lead author John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Russia "is one of the last places we would have expected people from Africa to occupy first."

"Our suspicion is that the appeal that this part of Europe had for early modern people was that there were no competitors there, that the Neanderthalers weren't living there," he said. "It was sort of an open door for modern humans to come into Europe."

Scientists generally agree that modern humans spread out of Africa starting about 50,000 years ago, quickly establishing Stone Age cultures throughout Europe, Asia and Australia. But there is a big gap in the evidence until about 30,000 years ago.

Hoffecker's team, along with researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences, reported on human teeth, tools, beads, carved ivory and other artifacts dug up at the Kostenki archeological site on the Don River, about 250 miles south of Moscow.

They date these artifacts to 42,000 to 45,000 years ago, an age similar to those of other items found in Western Europe.

One carved piece of mammoth ivory may be the unfinished head of a small human figurine. "If confirmed, it will be the oldest example of figurative art ever discovered," Hoffecker said.

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