Based on new radiocarbon dating evidence for the Late Aurignacian of Portugal, an archaeological culture unquestionably associated with modern humans, an international team of researchers claims that the last Neanderthals in Europe died out approximately 37,000 years ago.
The new paper, published in PLoS ONE builds on earlier research which proposed that, south of the Cantabro-Pyrenean mountain chain, Neanderthals survived for several millennia after being replaced or assimilated by anatomically modern humans everywhere else in Europe.
Although the reality of this 'Ebro Frontier' pattern has gained wide acceptance since it was first proposed some twenty years ago, two important aspects of the model have remained the object of unresolved controversy: the exact duration of the frontier; and the causes underlying the eventual disappearance of those refugial Neanderthal populations (ecology and climate, or competition with modern human immigrants).
This new evidence therefore puts at five millennia the duration of the Iberian Neanderthal refugium, and counters speculations that Neanderthal populations could have remained in the Gibraltar area until 28,000 years ago.
The findings, the researchers say, have important implications for the understanding of the archaic features found in the anatomy of a 30,000 year old child unearthed at Lagar Velho, Portugal. With the last of the Iberian Neanderthals dating to many millennia before the child was born, 'freak' crossbreeding between immediate ancestors drawn from distinct 'modern' and 'Neanderthal' gene pools cannot be a viable explanation. The skeleton's archaic features must therefore represent evolutionarily significant admixture at the time of contact, as suggested by the team who excavated and studied the fossil.
"I believe the 'Ebro frontier' pattern was generated by both climatic and demographic factors, as it coincides with a period of globally milder climate during which oak and pine woodlands expanded significantly along the west façade of Iberia.," said lead author Professor João Zilhão.
"Population decrease and a break-up of interaction networks probably occurred as a result of the expansion of such tree-covered landscapes, favoring the creation and persistence of population refugia."
"Then, as environments opened up again for large herbivore herds and their hunters as a result of the return to colder conditions, interaction and movement across the previous boundary must have ensued, and the last of the Neanderthals underwent the same processes of assimilation or replacement that underpin their demise elsewhere in Europe five millennia earlier."
The dating was undertaken by experts at the University of Vienna (VERA laboratory) led by Professor Eva Maria Wild, and at the University of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.
Professor Wild, head of the 14C program at VERA (Vienna Environmental Research Accelerator) said: "Accurate 14C dating was crucial for this study. For layer 2 of the cave sediment we achieved this by selecting teeth for 14C dating and by comparing the 14C results of the same sample after different, elaborate sample pre-treatments. Agreement between the results obtained with different methods provides a proof for accurate dating."
Citation: Zilhão J et al., 'Pego do Diabo (Loures, Portugal): Dating the Emergence of Anatomical Modernity in Westernmost Eurasia', PLoS ONE 5(1): e8880. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008880
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Why An Extra Planet Can't Be Hidden Behind The Sun Or Above The South Pole
- The Daily Physics Problem - 2
- The Daily Physics Problem - 1
- The Daily Physics Problem - 3
- Lichen: Apparently Happy Couple Really A Threesome
- US Could Feed Twice As Many People - If Only Elites Eat Meat
- Hugh Hefner's Wife Was Not Poisoned By Breast Implants
- "Are you referring to Mike Brown's new Planet X idea, usually called Planet 9 (though I think that's..."
- "You sir should be ashamed, for acting like you know anything, and trying to scare people with nonsense..."
- "No, you're a towel..."
- "Hilariously enough --- and I literally laughed out loud --- the title of LM's long boring post..."
- "I wouldn't believe that there would be an ECAL overshoot however which would lead to two 50 GeV..."
- Shops openly flouting tobacco sales ban near schools in China
- Novel statistical method captures long-term health burden of pediatric cancer cures
- Visual pigment rhodopsin forms two-molecule complexes in vivo
- Hot news flash! Menopause, insomnia accelerate aging
- Cities face dramatic increase in water treatment spending when watersheds are developed