Who were the first modern humans to settle in Europe?


Before modern humans settled definitively in Europe, other human populations left Africa for Europe beginning approximately 60,000 years ago, albeit without settling for the long term. This was due to a major climatic crisis 40,000 years ago, combined with a super-eruption originating from the Phlegraean Fields volcanic area near current-day Naples, subsequently precipitating a decline in ancient European populations. To determine who the first modern humans to settle definitively in Europe were, a team led by CNRS scientists1  analysed the genome of two skull fragments from the Buran Kaya III site in Crimea dating to 36,000 and 37,000 years ago. By comparing them to DNA sequences from human genome databases, they revealed the genetic proximity between these individuals and both current and ancient Europeans, especially those associated with the Gravettian culture, known for producing female figurines referred to as “Venuses”, whose apogee in Europe came between 31,000 and 23,000 years ago. The stone tools found at Buran Kaya III also resemble some Gravettian assemblages. The individuals studied here therefore contributed both genetically and technologically to the population that gave rise to this civilisation around 5,000 years later. This research, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on 23 October, documents the first arrival of the ancestors of Europeans.

Skull fragment found at Buran Kaya III in Crimea, belonging to an individual dating back to approximately 37,000 years ago.
© Eva-Maria Geigl/IJM/CNRS


  • 1From the Institute Jacques Monod (CNRS/Université Paris Cité), in collaboration with archaeologists from the Natural History of Prehistoric Humans laboratory (CNRS/MNHN/UPVD) working at the Musée de l’homme and at the Institute of Human Palaeontology, in addition to The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

Genome sequences of 36-37,000 year-old modern humans at Buran-Kaya III in Crimea. E. Andrew Bennett, Oğuzhan Parasayan, Sandrine Prat, Stéphane Péan, Laurent, Alexandr Yanevich, Thierry Grange and Eva-Maria Geigl. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 23 October 2023.
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-023-02211-9


Eva-Maria Geigl
CNRS Researcher
Thierry Grange
CNRS researcher
Aurélie Meilhon
CNRS Press Officer