Summary: A new modeling study reports modern humans may have co-existed with Neanderthals in France and Northern Spain between 1,400 and 2,900 years before the Neanderthals became extinct.
Source: Scientific Reports
Modern humans may have co-existed with Neanderthals in France and northern Spain for between 1,400 and 2,900 years before Neanderthals disappeared, according to a modeling study published in Scientific Reports.
These findings add to our understanding of the existence of the two species of humans in this region.
Recent fossil evidence suggests that modern humans (Homo Sapiens) and Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) may have co-existed in Europe for as long as 5,000 to 6,000 years before Neanderthals became extinct.
However, there is currently little evidence for their co-existence at a regional level and it is difficult to establish when the two species first appeared and disappeared in these areas.
Igor Djakovic and colleagues analysed a dataset of 56 Neanderthal and modern human artefacts (28 for each group) from seventeen archaeological sites across France and northern Spain, as well as an additional ten Neanderthal specimens from the same region. All samples had been radiocarbon dated using robust modern techniques since 2000 for greater accuracy.
The authors used Optimal Linear Estimation and Bayesian probability modelling to estimate the date ranges for these samples and the populations responsible, and infer the earliest and latest dates that these human groups might have been present at the sites. This modelling served to fill in missing portions of the archaeological record, which hamper date estimation.
Based on this modelling, the authors estimate that Neanderthals artefacts first appeared between 45,343 and 44,248 years ago, and disappeared between 39,894 and 39,798 years ago. The date of Neanderthal extinction, based on directly-dated Neanderthal remains, was between 40,870 and 40,457 years ago.
Modern humans were estimated to first appear between 42,653 and 42,269 years ago. The authors conclude that this suggests the two species of humans co-existed in these regions for between 1,400 and 2,900 years.
These results do not, however, indicate how or whether modern humans and Neanderthals interacted.
About this evolutionary neuroscience research news
Optimal linear estimation models predict 1400–2900 years of overlap between Homo sapiens and Neandertals prior to their disappearance from France and northern Spain
Recent fossil discoveries suggest that Neandertals and Homo sapiens may have co-existed in Europe for as long as 5 to 6000 years. Yet, evidence for their contemporaneity at any regional scale remains highly elusive.
In France and northern Spain, a region which features some of the latest directly-dated Neandertals in Europe, Protoaurignacian assemblages attributed to Homo sapiens appear to ‘replace’ Neandertal-associated Châtelperronian assemblages. Using the earliest and latest known occurrences as starting points, Bayesian modelling has provided indication that these occupations may in fact have been partly contemporaneous.
The reality, however, is that we are unlikely to ever identify the ‘first’ or ‘last’ appearance of a species or cultural tradition in the archaeological and fossil record.
Here, we use optimal linear estimation modelling to estimate the first appearance date of Homo sapiens and the extinction date of Neandertals in France and northern Spain by statistically inferring these ‘missing’ portions of the Protoaurignacian and Châtelperronian archaeological records.
Additionally, we estimate the extinction date of Neandertals in this region using a dataset of directly-dated Neandertal fossil remains. Our total dataset consists of sixty-six modernly produced radiocarbon determinations which we recalibrated using the newest calibration curve (IntCal20) to produce updated age ranges.
The results suggest that the onset of the Homo sapiens occupation of this region likely preceded the extinction of Neandertals and the Châtelperronian by up to 1400–2900 years.
This reaffirms the Bayesian-derived duration of co-existence between these groups during the initial Upper Palaeolithic of this region using a novel independent method, and indicates that our understanding of the timing of these occupations may not be suffering from substantial gaps in the record.
Whether or not this co-existence featured some form of direct interaction, however, remains to be resolved.