By Pallab Ghosh
New fossils challenge ideas that modern humans wiped out Neanderthals after arriving from Africa.
New fossils are challenging ideas that modern humans wiped out Neanderthals soon after arriving from Africa.
A discovery of a child’s tooth and stone tools in a cave in southern France suggests Homo sapiens was in western Europe about 54,000 years ago.
That is several thousands of years earlier than previously thought, indicating that the two species could have coexisted for long periods.
The research has been published in the journal Science Advances.
The finds were discovered in a cave, known as Grotte Mandrin in the Rhone Valley, by a team led by Prof Ludovic Slimak of the University of Toulouse. He was astonished when he learned that there was evidence of an early modern human settlement.
“We are now able to demonstrate that Homo sapiens arrived 12,000 years before we expected, and this population was then replaced after that by other Neanderthal populations. And this literally rewrites all our books of history.”
The Neanderthals emerged in Europe as far back as 400,000 years ago. The current theory suggests that they went extinct about 40,000 years ago, not long after Homo sapiens arrived on the continent from Africa.
But the new discovery suggests that our species arrived much earlier and that the two species could have coexisted in Europe for more than 10,000 years before the Neanderthals went extinct.
According to Prof Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum in London, this challenges the current view, which is that our species quickly overwhelmed the Neanderthals.
“It wasn’t an overnight takeover by modern humans,” he told BBC News. “Sometimes Neanderthals had the advantage, sometimes modern humans had the advantage, so it was more finely balanced.”
Archaeologists found fossil evidence from several layers at the site. The lower they dug, the further back in time they were able to see. The lowest layers showed the remains of Neanderthals who occupied the area for about 20,000 years.
But to their complete surprise, the team found a modern human child’s tooth in a layer dating back to about 54,000 years ago, along with some stone tools made in a way that was not associated with Neanderthals.
The evidence suggests that this early group of humans lived at the site for a relatively brief period, of perhaps about 2,000 years after which the site was unoccupied. The Neanderthals then return, occupying the site for several more thousand years, until modern humans come back about 44,000 years ago. […]
Continue reading: Neanderthal extinction not caused by brutal wipe out