Anthropologists hail Romania fossil find

Alison Mutler


March 6, 2004 | BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- Experts analyzing remains of a man, woman and teenage boy unearthed in Romania last year are convinced that the 35,000 year-old fossils are the most complete ever of modern humans of that era, a U.S. scientist said Saturday.

International scientists have been carrying out further analysis to get a clearer picture on the find, said anthropologist Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis. But it's already clear that, "this is the most complete collection of modern humans in Europe older than 28,000 years," he told The Associated Press.

"We are very excited about it," said Trinkaus on the telephone, adding that the discovery of in a cave in southwestern Romania "is already changing perceptions about modern humans."

Romanian recreational cavers unearthed the remains of three facial bones last year, and gave them to Romanian scientists.

Romanian scientists asked Trinkaus to analyze the fossils, and he traveled to the Romanian city of Cluj this week with Portuguese scientist Joao Zilhao, a fossil specialist.

Trinkaus said a jawbone belonged to a man aged about 35. He said part of a skull and remains of a face including teeth belonged to a 14- to 15-year-old male and a temporal bone to a woman of unspecified age.

"This was 25,000 years before agriculture. Certainly they were hunters," said Trinkaus. He said the bones were discovered in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

Trinkaus said the humans would have had religious beliefs, used stone tools, and a well-defined social system and lived in a period in during which early modern humans overlapped with late surviving Neanderthals in Europe, Trinkaus said.

Scientists will not give the exact location for the cave, but Trinkaus said it the humans survived because the area was "ecologically variable."

"It was close to the Banat plain and close to the mountains. They didn't have to travel more than 50 kilometers (30 miles)," to hunt, he said.

A team of international scientists from the United States, Norway, Portugal and Britain will carry out more field work in the summer in the cave and surrounding area this summer, Trinkaus said.