March 2, 2013

An infant's milk tooth from Orce is the earliest known human remain in West Europe

The discovery was made in 2002 but is only to be published in a formal paper now, at the Journal of Human Evolution (not yet published, it seems). The molar from a young child of, possibly, Homo erectus, habilis or, if you wish, georgicus was found in the Cave of Orce (Granada province, Andalusia) and dated to c. 1.4 million years ago, being therefore the most ancient human inhabitant known in Western Europe. 

This finding correspond to Oldowan findings by Catalan archaeologist Josep Gibert, which he dated to c. 1.5-1.8 Ma ago but that other scholars prefer to date somewhat more recently (1.2 Ma ago?) The Gibert dates in any case correlate well with the recent discovery of H. georgicus and the general estimate for the first migrations out of Africa by H. habilis/erectus, dated also to c. 1.8 Ma ago. 

"Orce Man" scapula
It would also add some support to the claim by Gibert of a bone found in that same cave in 1983 being part of the skull of an archaic human, the so-called Orce Man, which he dated to 1.3 Ma. Back in the day the finding was strongly contested and even claimed to be an equid's scapula, however the debate has not yet settled and it seems that these days only creationists are heavily opposed to Orce Man being real, while the scientific establishment remains divided. 

Whatever the case, if Orce Man was real, this kid could well have been his direct ancestor.

Sources[es/cat]: Pileta (incl. videos); Catalan Institute of Human Paleontology (IPHES) → blog (many photos), press release; 20 Minutos.


The son of Josep Gibert, Luis, laments in interview by press agency EFE (published today at Diario Vasco, for example) that some people (in direct reference to IPHES' director) still discredit his father's work but he feels happy about the tooth finding.

He argues that it cannot be the scapula of a ruminant among other reasons because these animals have a much thicker skull than us humans.

He also feels personally affected because he had hoped that his team could have obtained a license to work in the Orce area but the Andalusian authorities have only produced one single license for one single team.

(Via Pileta again).

Update (Mar 23): Gibert controversy delays publication

Publication of the relevant paper has been delayed after Luis Gibert asked the Journal of Human Evolution why a tooth fragment, dated to 1.25 Ma., published by his father Josep in Human Evolution 1999 (now extinct), is not even mentioned. Other works by Josep Gibert on Olduwayan tools found in the very same site of Barranco de León with dates as old as 1.5 Ma. are also ignored in the study's text and bibliography. For these reasons Elsevier has decided to provisionally pull back the publication until these works are cited.

Paul Palmqvist, one of the members of the team currently digging at Orce, laments the decision on the grounds that the tooth fragment found by Gibert is not at all conclusively human.

It is a fragment of tooth enamel that in my opinion belonged to a hippopotamus, he said.

Luis Gibert claims that the humanity of the tooth was confirmed to his father in a telephone conversation by reputed archaeologist José María Bermúdez de Castro, however this one denies such thing ever happening and the humanity of the Gibert molar fragment. He also attacked the defunct publication Human Evolution as a third tier magazine, a parochial flier in which everything was allowed.

Source: Paleorama en Red[es].

Update (Mar 25):

Ama Ata dedicates today an entry to a documentary (in Spanish, 1hr long, split in four videos) titled Orce Man, homage to Josep Gibert. It is interesting to realize that many scientists are supportive of the position of Gibert, very notably Yves Coppens, discoverer of famous australopitecine Lucy, who says that Josep died too young (in 2007) because otherwise he might have lived to see the triumph of his theories.

The real issue seems to be that in the early 80s, there was a widespread belief in the Academic establishment on Europe had not being inhabited by any kind of humans until some 500,000 years ago. This finding did not only more than double those dates (something now widely accepted) but Gibert was even suggesting that they might have arrived by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, something that even today some find hard to believe for Homo erectus.

However the skull fragment was widely accepted initially as real. But then a small "occipital crest" was found in it, what led Lumbley to argue that it was a horse instead. Gibert lamented that instead of communicating this to him or otherwise debating cleanly, the French leaked this to the press surreptitiously and pulled strings within the circles of power of the Academia, a similar method of pseudoscientific disqualification by established "armchair scientists" to calumniate the findings of Iruña-Veleia.

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