The other, more complete skull belonged to a Neanderthal who lived 170,000 years ago. This narrative originally said that modern humans in the southern cape of Africa developed a suite of original ways of thinking and communicating approximately 80,000 years ago.
The scientists, including those from the University of Tuebingen in Germany, restored two skulls found inside a cave in southern Greece and carried out radiometric dating. Anthropologists found Apidima 1 and the second skull, named Apidima 2, encased in rock in 1978.
Paleoanthropologist Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University- whose team discovered the Misliya cave jaw and assigned it to a Homo Sapiens jaw, says, "it is still possible that both Apidima skulls are Neanderthals'".
The breccia was dated to between 100,000 and 190,000 years old at the time.
The two partial skulls were not near anything that offered archaeologists useful clues about their origin: no stone tools, no animal remains, nothing. Apidima 2 does belong to a Neanderthal. At the time, researchers focused on the latter. All the while, Neanderthals were evolving in Europe, genetically isolated from other hominid species.
Instead of throwing these priceless fragments away, they kept them to determine the age of the skulls using a high-tech version of mass spectrometry. Then they compared the virtual skulls with a variety of other skulls of known species.
What's more, the Neanderthal skull was younger.
"The advantage of the method is that is uses up a very little amount of material and that gives us an opportunity to date valuable fossils like the Apidima skulls", Professor Grun said. It is widely accepted that our species evolved in Africa-the oldest known Homo sapiens fossils were found in Morocco and date back 315,000 years ago-and first ventured out of the continent between 70,000 and 60,000 years ago. But the Jebel Irhoud fossils display more primitive features than Apidima 1. Among other things, they reconstructed the damaged parts virtually, and dated him on a age of 210,000 years.
Professor Harvati believes they were wiped out by environmental factors - which could have included climatic events and pressure from Neanderthals. "A$3 ncient proteins survive longer than DNA, making them a suitable molecular alternative for evolutionary analyses in cases where ancient DNA does not survive".
The cave is reachable only by water now. Previous studies have shown that humans most likely mated with European Neanderthals at that time. The cave overlooked a coastal plain that was probably flawless for hunting, while the cave itself provided shelter.
A skull discovered by geologist Arun Sonakia in 1982 along the banks of the Narmada is the oldest modern human fossil found in India.
Those answers might help anthropologists answer perhaps the biggest mystery of all, according to Harvati: What happened to these early migrants, and why did they die out?
The researchers dated the skull to about 210,000 years old, which, if true, would make the skull about 150,000 years older than the oldest fossil of homo sapiens found in Europe.
Many questions remain for the researchers. Apidima 1 is even older, and "indicates that early modern humans dispersed out of Africa starting much earlier, and reaching much further, than previously thought", the study authors write.