Washington, March 27 : The analysis of a prehistoric fossil that was found in northern Spain last year, has confirmed that the first settlers in Europe reached the continent 1.2 million years ago.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the prehistoric fossils were excavated last June at Atapuerca in northern Spain, along with stone tools used for butchering meat.
At the time, scientists had announced that they had dated one of the jaw teeth to 1.2 million years ago but that more research was needed before the find could be reported in a scientific journal.
The lower jawbone was discovered inside a 60-foot-long (18-meter-long) cave known as Sima del Elefante.
Now, new analysis has verified that the pioneering owner of the tooth is the world's "first European," as reported by the archaeological team-led by Eudald Carbonell of the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain.
The individual, whose fossils have been found, has been labeled a Homo antecessor-a species first named in 1997 based on other human fossils found at Atapuerca. Though the gender isn't known, but the new human was likely aged between 30 and 40 at the time of death.
The complex of fossils allowed scientists to use a variety of methods to confirm the age of the fossils, including magnetic analysis, radioactive dating, and geologic studies of the clustered bones and artifacts.
"Since we now know those fossils date to 900,000 (years ago), the time difference is not great, and, provisionally at least, I think it's logical to assign the mandible to Homo antecessor," said dig co-director Jose Maria Bermºdez de Castro of the National Research Center on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain.
The research opens an interesting new chapter in the story of European colonization, the study authors said.
According to Fred Spoor, professor of evolutionary anatomy at University College London, the new fossil, assuming it's dating is accurate, marks "undoubtedly a very important and exciting find."
Spoor also described the jaw as "remarkably modern looking" compared with similar or younger hominin fossils known from Africa.
He added that the idea that the Atapuerca hominins represent a distinct European species is entirely plausible, given that the region would have been a far-flung human outpost.
According to Bermºdez de Castro, "Homo antecessor may be very, very old in Europe, and modern humans came from Africa." "More likely, Homo antecessor gave rise to Neanderthals in Europe," he said, adding that, "it's a good hypothesis to test in the future."