When did the first early humans come to Europe? According to a new find in Spain, apparently earlier than expected. Accordingly, these early relatives already looked amazingly similar to us.

According to their own statements, researchers have found the oldest known remains of an early human in Europe in northern Spain. The fossils discovered in the province of Burgos represented “the face of the first European,” so to speak, according to the directors of the prestigious Fundación Atapuerca. According to the researchers, the complete scientific analysis and the exact dating of the remains will take at least a year, Atapuerca said. So far, the find has not been described in a peer-reviewed journal.

Early humans of the genus Homo, which also includes modern humans, Homo sapiens, lived up to 1.4 million years ago at the site on the Sierra de Atapuerca mountain range, it said. According to the Spanish researchers, the find shows that the European continent was settled much earlier by upright early humans than previously assumed.

“A historic day for science”

The discovery is part of the cheekbone and upper jaw of an early human. During the presentation of the remains, it was emphasized that it is of extraordinary importance for understanding the first steps in the evolution of early humans outside of Africa.

According to the information, the new find was only made a few days ago, on June 30th. “A historic day for science,” said Juan Luis Arsuaga, a respected paleoanthropologist and one of the directors of the Atapuerca excavation project. “This fossil will force us to rewrite the books on human evolution,” the 68-year-old was quoted as saying by the newspaper “El País” on Saturday.

The researchers find it remarkable that the face of the “first European” – unlike, for example, the face of the Neanderthal, who appeared much later – was astonishingly similar to that of modern man. Arsuaga: “This fossil shows us that things that we thought would appear at the end of evolution, such as the modern face, were probably there at the beginning.”

The renowned early human researcher Jean-Jacques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology also commented on the find. “According to reports, the oldest face (1.4 million years old?) found in Europe so far was discovered in Atapuerca,” Hublin wrote on Twitter on Friday evening.

Until the early 1990s, it was believed that the first Europeans lived around 500,000 years ago. The excavation site in Atapuerca caused a stir when human remains were discovered there in 1994, which were assigned to the “Homo antecessor” – a human species that is said to have lived around 900,000 years ago. In subsequent years, even older remains were discovered in the Atapuerca Caves.

Atapuerca researchers are confident that more important discoveries await them that will shed more light on how early humans, coming from Africa, settled the European continent. “There’s still a lot of excavation to be done. The colleagues are now very excited and in a good mood and want to find out more,” said Arsuaga’s colleague José María Bermúdez de Castro. Not only in Spain, but also in Greece, Turkey and Italy, archaeologists and paleontologists still have a lot of work to do. “We have to do more research because there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” emphasized the 70-year-old.

Atapuerca is considered a paradise for archaeologists and paleontologists. The relatively small mountain range, which is only around 15 kilometers east of the provincial capital Burgos, was declared a nature reserve, a cultural asset worth protecting and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 because of the spectacular finds.