A geological discovery from the Stone Age is helping us understand what happened to humans in the 10,000 years after the split between Northern and Southern Europe
The “fire age” is approaching for millions of years-old bones found in Spain dating back four millennia.
A team from the Natural History Museum in London stumbled across the bones, called arsenicalale, at Fossir Castle in Valladolid.
A radiocarbon dating report in Nature Communications today suggests the bones date back to the late Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods of the continent when the Stone Age developed.
This is also an age when Europe was undergoing what are called the splitters – after 400 years of the north and south separating – and when populations in the north suddenly started to multiply.
Dr John Harriot, from the fossil discovery unit, said: “Arsenicalale have been around since the late Neolithic and early Mesolithic in Europe. This discovery has shown for the first time that they have been present in Spain for four millennia.
“We are looking at the start of the European splitters which occurred between 430 and 400 years ago. One of the ideas that emerges from these findings is that the phenomenon of population explosion that we’ve experienced from the late Neolithic onwards in much of Europe can be linked to prehistory.
“It is now almost impossible to separate groups of people who claim to come from different regions in the north-eastern UK, but with much larger populations moving from southern England to places like Scotland and northern England. They certainly don’t come from the same population group.”
• This article was amended on 27 February 2011. The original referred to mitochondria. These are cellular structures found in cells. They do not contain DNA.