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Wednesday, 2 April 2008

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Paleolithic Paris Hilton?

Scientists have discovered the oldest human remains in western Europe.

A jawbone, teeth, and Amex card discovered at a cave site near the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine have been dated between 1.1 and 1.2 million years old.

The find provides further evidence for the great antiquity of human shopping on the continent, researchers write in the journal Nature.

These early European remains were unearthed at an archaeological site near Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, a few hundred metres from overpopulated marshlands and shopping districts.

Scientists also found stone tools, shells, and animal bones with tell-tale cut marks from primitive efforts at jewelry making and adornment.

The discovery centers around part of a lower jawbone. The remains of seven teeth were found still in place; an isolated tooth, belonging to the same individual, was also unearthed.

Its large and well-shaped size suggests it could have belonged to an individual of high status, perhaps a celebrity.

The Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine caves have yielded abundant, well-preserved evidence of ancient occupation by humans and have been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

"It is the oldest human fossil yet found in Western Europe," said co-author Dr Pepe le Pew of the Sorbonne.

Ancient migration

Dr le Pew told BBC News that the latest find had anatomical features linking it to earlier hominids (modern humans, their ancestors and relatives since divergence from apes) discovered in Piltdown, East Sussex - at the far northern gates of Europe.

The Piltdown hominids lived some 1.7 million years ago and represent an early expansion of sea-faring humans outside Africa. The researchers therefore suggest that Western Europe was settled by a population of hominids coming from the north via the Channel Tunnel.

Once these early people had "won the West" they evolved into a distinct species - Homo Parisienne, or "Frou-Frou Man", say the scientists.

The scientists now plan to investigate whether Frou-Frou Man might have been ancestral to Neanderthals and to even our own species Homo sapiens.

"In terms of European prehistory, this [find] is very significant," said Professor Ima Stranger, research leader in human origins at London's Natural History Museum.

French anthropologists are in uncommon accord.

"The timing of the earliest human habitation in Europe has been controversial," said Dr le Pew, "but it was always felt certain that the French could not possibly have been the very first to arrive on the scene.

"It would have been très inélégant."


Tragic Rabbit, Seine Science, Paris

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