Ancient Humans May Have Sailed The Mediterranean 450,000 Years Ago : ScienceAlert

Ancient humans discovered how to travel across the ocean to new lands about half a million years ago.

According to a new analysis of coastlines during the Mid-Chibanian era, These ancient hominins had no other way to reach what we now call the Aegean Islands. Yet archaeologists have discovered ancient artifacts on the islands Date before the first known appearance of Homo sapiens.

This suggests that these ancient humans found a way to cross large bodies of water. And if human migration didn’t require reliance on land bridges, that could have implications for the way our ancestors and modern humans spread across the globe.

The question of when hominins began to travel by sea is difficult to answer. Boats throughout history have been made of wood, which often doesn’t survive the ravages of time – and certainly not for tens of thousands, never mind hundreds of thousands of years. So there is no hope of a record of the first boats skimming across the oceans.

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Instead, what we have is a record of artifacts and bones – for example undecayed stone tools – and analytical tools that allow us to reconstruct the way the world changed over many millennia. Led by geologist George Ferentinos of the University of Patras in Greece, a team of researchers was able to conduct a new analysis.

The Aegean Islands are, today, considered one of the most beautiful places in the world. They consist of hundreds of islands that form an archipelago scattered across the Aegean Sea between Turkey, Greece and Crete. And they lived a long time; The artifacts date back to 476,000 years ago.

These ancient tools from Lesbos, Milos and Naxos are associated with the Acheulean style, which developed about 1.76 million years ago. Homo erectus throughout Africa and Asia. Many such tools have been found in Turkey, Greece and Crete 1.2 million years ago, so their appearance in a nearby archipelago makes some sense.

Previous studies have suggested that ancient humans traveled to the islands on foot during the Ice Ages. As the world froze, sea levels fell and humans could make water-covered crossings in more temperate times.

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A reconstructed map of the Aegean islands, showing landmasses at different sea levels. (Ferentinos et al., Quat. Int., 2022)

To determine whether this was possible, Ferentinos and his colleagues reconstructed the geography of the region, including the reconstruction of the coastline around the Aegean islands dating back to 450,000 years ago. For this, they used ancient river deltas, which can be used to estimate sea level and subsidence rates driven by tectonic activity.

And they found that previous reconstructions were wrong. At its lowest point in the last 450,000 years, sea level was about 225 meters (738 ft) lower than it is today.

This means that while some of the Aegean islands were connected together when sea levels were low, over the past 450,000 years, these islands have remained consistently insular from surrounding landmasses. At the lowest point of sea level, there were still several kilometers of open water to reach the nearest islands of the Aegean.

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Other evidence, the researchers point out, suggests this was not the first sea crossing. Between 700,000 and one million years ago, ancient humans are thought to have traveled the seas around Indonesia and the Philippines.

These combined crossings suggest that seafaring was not a developed skill Homo sapiensBut human ancestors and relatives that came before.

“Furthermore, considering that ancient hominins could cross the Aegean Sea, they were also capable of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“The above allows us to revise the generally accepted view of the peoples of southwestern Europe from the staging post of the Sinai Peninsula and Levantine plains via the Anatolian coastal region and the Bosporus land-bridge in the Middle and Late Middle Pleistocene based on consensus. The cognitive abilities to cross the ocean were restricted to anatomically modern humans.”

The research was published in Quaternary International.


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