[Source: Anne Ryman, Arizona Republic] -- A University of Arizona professor is on a team that has discovered evidence that modern humans lived in parts of Eastern Europe as early as 45,000 years ago. The study is being published today in Science magazine. Vance Holliday was part of the international group working on the project, and he did the geological analysis at the rural sites, called Kostenki, 250 miles south of Moscow. Researchers found stone, bone, and ivory tools under volcanic ash left over from an eruption 40,000 years ago. The materials were dated using a scientific process that determines when the tools were last exposed to daylight.
Researchers also found shell ornaments and a carved ivory head, which may be the earliest piece of figurative art in the world. Holliday, a professor of anthropology and geosciences, visited the sites three times beginning in 2001 to do field work. He often works in the U.S., so it was a different and exciting change, he said. "Here in the New World you don't have sites that old," he said. Scientists have long sought to trace the early routes of modern humans. The latest finding appears to show they made their way into central Eastern Europe several thousand years before they spread across Western and Eastern Europe. Prior studies have estimated migration into Europe at 40,000 to 43,000 years ago.