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Aris Poulianos and the Petralona Man

A Greek national tv documentary (English subtitles)

Aris Poulianos (born on July 24, 1924, in Ikaria, North Aegean) is a Greek anthropologist and archaeologist. He earned his Ph.D in Moscow under the supervision of anthropologist F. G. Debets in 1961 with a dissertation on The Origin of the Greeks, a work based on anthropometric studies of a sample of present-day Greek people. In 1965, he returned to Greece as a researcher.

Poulianos’ career has been a rather checkered one. In addition, he has a pattern of not submitting all of his research for peer-review. Further, there have been incidences of lost field notes, etc. Poulianos does have some rather strong nationalistic tendencies.

In 1959 a villager of Petralona, in Halkidiki, Northern Greece, in his effort to find sources of water for the needs of the settlement, found a small cleft on the slopes of Mount Katsika. Two adventurous young men were lowered by rope to a depth of 13 meters and when they surfaced, they described the beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites, which they had seen for the first time in their lives.

The same year the first scientific exploration and study of the cave, by the President of the Greek Speleological Society John Petrohilos and Anna Petrohilos, was carried out. The ones that followed, until 1964, revealed a large number of chambers and corridors, totaling 8 to 10 meters high, with an impressive decor.

The rock formations resemble giant cactus, pink pearls, sturdy columns or delicate curtains, and in several places water ponds are fed by stalactite material. Besides its importance for the natural beauty and size, the cave is very important, as it presents anthropological and paleontological interest. In 1960, during the exploration works, the most important finding was the cranium of a primitive man, unique in Greece, which is now at the University of Thessaloniki.

In 1971, Poulianos founded the Anthropological Association of Greece, which is now run by his son. This organization has had a long-standing dispute with the Greek Ministry of Culture, after the latter’s attempts to evict the association from the excavation site in the Petralona Cave, which was conceded to them after a 1981 contract. In 1976, Poulianos founded the Department of Paleoanthropology-Spelaeology, which functions within the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Since the 1970s, Poulianos, has investigated early hominid remains found in a cave in Petralona, Greece, and has become known for controversial claims over their age. According to Poulianos, the Petralona Cave was accidentally discovered in 1959 by local villagers searching for a spring in the mountainside.

The existence of an abundance of caves in a country, where 65% of the terrain is limestone, is perfectly normal. Besides, Greece is the second country after China with the largest number of caves in the world. Several thousand of these formations have been explored, mapped and studied, and more than 100 have been described as of remarkable interest το visitors.

The Petralona skull, specifically, was discovered in 1960 when it was removed from a rock in the cave. Early estimates at the time placed the age of the hominid remains to around 70,000 years old. Poulianos him self would ultimately study the remains and claim that the hominid remains (a skull) discovered in the Petralona Cave are 700,000 years old and belong to a distinct species, which he named Archanthropus europeaus petraloniensis (commonly: Archanthropus of Petralona).

During the 1980s, the age of the Petralona hominid estimated by Poulianos was challenged by an article in Nature. The scientists involved used electron spin resonance measurements and ultimately dated the age of the skull to between 160,000 and 240,000 years old.

However, Poulianos states that his excavations in the cave since 1968 provide evidence of human occupation from the Pleistocene era. The Petralona hominid, specifically, was located in a stratigraphic layer containing the most amount of tools and traces of habitation.

Poulianos states that the age of the overall layer is approximately 670,000 years old based on electron spin resonance measurements. Further excavations at Petralona revealed two human skeletons that press reports claimed to be 800,000 years old.

Today, most academics who have analyzed the Petralona remains classify the hominid as Homo erectus. However, the Archanthropus of Petralona has also been classified as a Neanderthal (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) and as an early generic class of Homo sapiens. Some authors, on the other hand, believe that the Petralona cranium is derived from a unique class of hominids different from Homo erectus.

In September 1995, Poulianos presented a calcified tibia found in Triglia, Chalkidiki, which he claimed belonged to a Homo erectus form he termed Homo erectus trilliensis, spreading all over the world from this region of the Aegean, of the SE of Europe 13 million years ago, and which he dated to 11 million years before the present. Poulianos believes that his discovery may challenge the Out of Africa theory regarding human evolution.

The age estimation of the “14 year old girl” is problematic on a number of levels. The over-all age of the specimen is quite suspect, given the genetic information available as it relates to African migration of  Homo sapiens sapiens amongst other factors. Poulianos makes a number of rather presumptive leaps. And while the torsion studies are proving to be of interest (ala ardipithicus), these alone may not be fully sufficient. Recovery of pelvic and foot remains would be more definitive.

In paleoanthropology, the recent African origin of modern humans, or the “Out of Africa” theory, is the most widely accepted model of the geographic origin and early migration of anatomically modern humans. This model has incorporated the 2010 discovery of genetic evidence for some archaic human admixture with modern Homo sapiens.

The debate in anthropology had swung in favour of monogenism by the mid-20th century. Isolated proponents of polygenism held forth in the mid-20th century, such as Carleton Coon, who hypothesized as late as 1962 that Homo sapiens arose five times from Homo erectus in five places. The “Recent African origin” of modern humans means “single origin” (monogenism) and has been used in various contexts as an antonym to polygenism.

The theory is called the “(Recent) Out-of-Africa” model in the popular press, and academically the “recent single-origin hypothesis” (RSOH), “Replacement Hypothesis”, and “Recent African Origin” (RAO) model. The concept was speculative until the 1980s, when it was corroborated by a study of present-day mitochondrial DNA, combined with evidence based on physical anthropology of archaic specimens.

Genetic studies and fossil evidence show that archaic Homo sapiens evolved to anatomically modern humans solely in Africa, between 200,000 and 60,000 years ago, that members of one branch of Homo sapiens left Africa by between 125,000 and 60,000 years ago, and that over time these humans replaced earlier human populations such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus.

The date of the earliest successful “out of Africa” migration (earliest migrants with living descendants) has generally been placed at 60,000 years ago as suggested by genetics, although migration out of the continent may have taken place as early as 125,000 years ago according to Arabian archaeology finds of tools in the region.

A 2013 paper reported that a previously unknown lineage had been found, which pushed the estimated date for the most recent common ancestor (Y-MRCA) back to 338,000 years ago.

The recent single origin of modern humans in East Africa is the predominant position held within the scientific community. There are differing theories on whether there was a single exodus or several.

A multiple dispersal model involves the Southern Dispersal theory, which has gained support in recent years from genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence. A growing number of researchers also suspect that “long-neglected North Africa” was the original home of the modern humans who first trekked out of the continent.

The major competing hypothesis is the multiregional origin of modern humans, which envisions a wave of Homo sapiens migrating earlier from Africa and interbreeding with local Homo erectus populations in multiple regions of the globe. Most multiregionalists still view Africa as a major wellspring of human genetic diversity, but allow a much greater role for hybridization.

The first hypothesis is that Homo erectus migrated from Africa during the Early Pleistocene, possibly as a result of the operation of the Saharan pump, around 2.0 million years ago, and it dispersed throughout much of the Old World.

Fossilized remains 1.8 to 1 million years old have been found in Africa (e.g., Lake Turkana and Olduvai Gorge), Georgia, Indonesia (e.g., Sangiran in Central Java and Trinil in East Java), Vietnam, China (e.g., Shaanxi) and India.

The second hypothesis is that Homo erectus evolved in Eurasia and then migrated to Africa. The species occupied a Caucasus site called Dmanisi, in Georgia, from 1.85 million to 1.77 million years ago, at the same time or slightly before the earliest evidence in Africa. Excavations found 73 stone tools for cutting and chopping and 34 bone fragments from unidentified creatures.

Many paleoanthropologists still debate the definition of Homo erectus and Homo ergaster as separate species. Several scholars suggested dropping the taxon Homo erectus and instead equating Homo erectus with the archaic Homo sapiens. Some call Homo ergaster the direct African ancestor of H. erectus, proposing that it emigrated out of Africa and immigrated to Asia, branching into a distinct species.

Homo ergaster (meaning “working man”) or African Homo erectus is an extinct chronospecies of Homo that lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, between 1.8 million and 1.3 million years ago.

There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of Homo ergaster, but it is now widely accepted to be the direct ancestor of later hominids, such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo sapiens, and Homo neanderthalensis and Asian Homo erectus.

It is one of the earliest members of the genus Homo, possibly ancestral to, or sharing a common ancestor with, Homo erectus. Some paleoanthropologists consider Homo ergaster to be simply the African variety of Homo erectus; this leads to the use of the term “Homo erectus sensu stricto” for the Asian Homo erectus, and “Homo erectus sensu lato” for the larger species comprising both the early African populations (Homo ergaster) and the Asian populations.

The latest discoveries go even further claiming that all five contemporary species of early “Homo” in Africa, “Homo habilis”, “Homo rudolfensis”, “Homo ergaster”, and “Homo erectus” are representatives from the same species, best named “Homo erectus”, which evolved about 2 million years ago in Africa and expanded through Eurasia, as far as China and Java, where it was first documented from about 1.2 million years ago.

Most dispense with the species name ergaster, making no distinction between such fossils as the Turkana Boy and Peking Man. Although “Homo ergaster” has gained some acceptance as a valid taxon, these two are still usually defined as distinct African and Asian populations of the larger species Homo erectus.

Homo ergaster used more diverse and sophisticated stone tools than its predecessors. The binomial name was published in 1975 by Groves and Mazák. The second part, “ergaster”, is derived from the Ancient Greek ἐργαστήρ “workman”, in reference to the comparatively advanced lithic technology developed by the species, introducing the Acheulean industry.

Homo erectus, however, used comparatively primitive tools. This is possibly because Hmo ergaster first used tools of Oldowan technology and later progressed to the Acheulean while the use of Acheulean tools began ca. 1.8 million years ago, the line of Homo erectus diverged some 200,000 years before the general innovation of Acheulean technology.

Thus the Asian migratory descendants of Homo ergaster made no use of any Acheulean technology. In addition, it has been suggested that Homo erectus may have been the first hominid to use rafts to travel over oceans.

Genetic testing in the last decade has revealed that several now extinct archaic human species may have interbred with modern humans. These species have been claimed to have left their genetic imprint in different regions across the world: Neanderthals in all humans except Sub-Saharan Africans, Denisova hominin in Australasia (for example, Melanesians, Aboriginal Australians and some Negritos) and there could also have been interbreeding between Sub-Saharan Africans and an as-yet-unknown hominin (possibly remnants of the ancient species Homo heidelbergensis).

However, the rate of interbreeding was found to be relatively low (1-10%) and other studies have suggested that the presence of Neanderthal or other archaic human genetic markers in modern humans can be attributed to shared ancestral traits originating from a common ancestor 500,000 to 800,000 years ago.

The claim and Poulianos’ interpretations are surprisingly popular in Greece, and a further claim that an 11 million years old calcified tibia was found in nearby Triglia also received some coverage in local news. Poulianos claimed the tribia belonged to a Homo erectus subspecies which he named Homo erectus trilliensis. While the claim sound absurd, there are copious amount of literature re-iterating it.

Homo erectus (meaning “upright man,” from the Latin ērigere, “to put up, set upright”) is an extinct species of hominin that lived throughout most of the Pleistocene, with the earliest first fossil evidence dating to around 1.9 million years ago and the most recent to around 143,000 years ago. The species originated in Africa and spread as far as Georgia, India, Sri Lanka, China and Java.

There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H. erectus, with two major alternative classifications: erectus may be another name for Homo ergaster, and therefore the direct ancestor of later hominids such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens; or it may be an Asian species distinct from African ergaster.

Some palaeoanthropologists consider H. ergaster to be simply the African variety of H. erectus. This leads to the use of the term “Homo erectus sensu stricto” for the Asian H. erectus, and “Homo erectus sensu lato” for the larger species comprising both the early African populations (H. ergaster) and the Asian populations.

The Dmanisi skull, also known as Skull 5, is a complete Homo erectus skull, one of five discovered in Dmanisi, Georgia. Found in October 2013, it is believed to be about 1.8 million years old and is the most complete skull of a Pleistocene Homo species.

Five early hominoids skulls have been discovered in the Dmanisi cave in Georgia. Their analysis shows that some Homonoids left Africa as far back as 1.85 million years ago.

The analysis of the skulls, especially Skull 5 with its tiny 546 cubic centimeters brain, suggests that the earliest species of the genus Homo were actually synonyms or subspecies of the species erectus. This suggests that many species of early human ancestor like Homo ergaster or Homo heidelbergensis were actually all Homo erectus. The debate continues.

Homo heidelbergensis — sometimes called Homo rhodesiensis – is an extinct species of the genus Homo which lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia from at least 600,000 years ago, and may date back 1,300,000 years. It survived until about 200,000 to 250,000 years ago. Its brain was nearly as large as that of a modern Homo sapiens.

It is very likely the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens (in Africa) and the Neanderthals (in Europe), and perhaps also the Denisovans (in Central Asia). First discovered near Heidelberg in Germany in 1907, it was described and named by Otto Schoetensack.

Denisovans or Denisova hominins are a Paleolithic-era species of the genus Homo or subspecies of Homo sapiens. In March 2010, scientists announced the discovery of a finger bone fragment of a juvenile female who lived about 41,000 years ago, found in the remote Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, a cave which has also been inhabited by Neanderthals and modern humans. Two teeth and a toe bone belonging to different members of the same population have since been reported.

Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the finger bone showed it to be genetically distinct from the mtDNAs of Neanderthals and modern humans. Subsequent study of the nuclear genome from this specimen suggests that this group shares a common origin with Neanderthals, that they ranged from Siberia to Southeast Asia, and that they lived among and interbred with the ancestors of some present-day modern humans, with about 3% to 5% of the DNA of Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians deriving from Denisovans. Other ethnicities, such as the Malays, Polynesians, the Dravidians of India, Burmans, and Mon-Khmer-speaking peoples may be included in this category as well.

A comparison with the genome of a Neanderthal from the same cave revealed significant local interbreeding, with local Neanderthal DNA representing 17% of the Denisovan genome, while evidence was also detected of interbreeding with an as yet unidentified ancient human lineage.

Similar analysis of a toe bone discovered in 2011 is underway, while analysis of DNA from two teeth found in different layers than the finger bone revealed an unexpected degree of mtDNA divergence among Denisovans.

In 2013, mitochondrial DNA from a 400,000-year-old hominin femur bone from Spain, which had been seen as either Neanderthal or Homo heidelbergensis, was found to be closer to Denisovan mtDNA than to Neanderthal mtDNA.

The Neanderthals or Neandertals are an extinct species of human in the genus Homo, possibly a subspecies of Homo sapiens. They are very closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by only 0.12%.

Remains left by Neanderthals include bones and stone tools, which are found in Eurasia, from Western Europe to Central and Northern Asia. The species is named after Neandertal (“Neander Valley”), the location in Germany where it was first discovered.

Neanderthals are generally classified by palaeontologists as the species Homo neanderthalensis, but a minority consider them to be a subspecies of Homo sapiens (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis). The first humans with proto-Neanderthal traits are believed to have existed in Eurasia as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago.

Aris Poulianos

Petralona Man

Petralona cave

Wikitravel article on Petralona

Petralona skull, Encyclopædia Britannica

Petralona 1, Smithsonian Institution

Anthropological Association of Greece

The human skull that challenges the Out of Africa theory

The human skull that challenges the Out of Africa theory – See more at:

The human skull that challenges the Out of Africa theory – See more at:

New Information on the Petralona Skull Controversy

New Information on the Petralona Skull Controversy

The 46th anniversary since the discovery of the Petralona Archanthropus’ skull

The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists

13.000.000 years old girl found in Petralona

Our ancestors

List of human evolution fossils

List of fossil sites

Homo habilis

Homo erectus

Homo georgicus

Homo ergaster

Homo floresiensis

Homo antecessor

Homo heidelbergensis

Homo neanderthalensis

Homo sapiens

Homo rhodesiensis

Homo cepranensis

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