Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Modern humans Replaced The Neandertals in the South of the Iberian Peninsula 44,000 Years Ago, 5,000 Years Earlier Than Previously Believed

Modern humans replaced the Neanderthals about 44,000 years ago  at a site in Spain, according to a study carried out by researchers from Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom, coordinated by Professor Miguel Cortés (University of Seville), in Cueva Bajondillo (Torremolinos, Málaga).

Bajondillo Cave and Malága Bay (Spain) at the end of the 1950s. Foreground images show Neanderthal (La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France, left) and early Modern Human (from Abri Cro-Magnon, France, right) skulls. Left lithic tool corresponds to Mousterian technology, and right Aurignacian, both recovered at Bajondillo Cave.
Credit: University of Seville

 The work, which involves scientists from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), indicates that this succession in southern Iberia is an early phenomenon in the context of Western Europe, contrary to what was previously believed. The work is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Western Europe is, according to researchers, a key area to date the replacement of Neandertals by modern humans since the former are associated with Mousterian industries (nominated from the Neanderthal site of Le Moustier, in France) and the latter with the auriñacienses (denominated thus by the French deposit of Aurignac). Until now, the radiocarbon dates available in Western Europe dated the conclusion of the replacement around 39,000 years ago, although in the south of the Iberian Peninsula the survival of the Mousterian industries and, therefore, the Neanderthals, would be extended to 32,000 years, there is no evidence in the area of ​​the early Aurignacian that was documented in Europe.

These are selected archaeological sites in Western Europe with Aurignacian industries actually or potentially older than 42,000 years, including Bajondillo Cave (Spain). Orange arrows indicate potential expansion routes across Europe at low sea level. Images on the left show a Neanderthal skull (La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France) and a Mousterian tool recovered at Bajondillo Cave. On the right the images show a Modern Human skull (Abri-Cro-Magnon, France) and an Aurignacian tool recovered at Bajondillo Cave

Credit: University of Seville

The new dates, however, delimit this replacement in a range of between 45,000 and 43,000 years before the present, which raises questions about a late survival of the Neanderthals in southern Iberia . The researchers suggest that further research will be necessary to determine whether the new dates show an earlier replacement of Neandertals throughout the peninsular south or more complex scenarios of "mosaic" coexistence between the two groups over millennia.

No relation to cold phenomena

The results of the study show that the implantation of modern humans in Cueva Bajondillo is isolated from phenomena of extreme cold , the so-called Heinrich events, being later than the dates that are known of the closest event (39,500 years). "The Heinrich events represent the most intense and variable climatic conditions in Western Europe at millennium scale but in this coastal region of the Mediterranean they do not seem to be involved in the transition from Mousteriense to Auriñaciense", comments Francisco Jimenez, CSIC researcher at the Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences.

The location of Bajondillo Cave points to coastal corridors as a preferred route in the dispersion of the first modern humans . Chris Stringer, researcher at the National Museum of History in London (United Kingdom) and co-author of the study, says: "Finding a Aurignacian so early in a cave so close to the sea reinforces the idea that the Mediterranean coast was a route for modern humans that penetrated Europe. This reinforces the evidence that suggests that more than 40,000 years ago Homo sapiens had quickly dispersed throughout much of Eurasia. "

For his part, Arturo Morales-Muñiz, a scientist at the Autonomous University of Madrid, suggests that evidence from Cueva Bajondillo will help to draw attention to the role played by the Strait of Gibraltar as a potential route for the dispersion of modern humans. They left Africa .

Contacts and sources:
University of Seville

Citation: An early Aurignacian arrival in southwestern Europe.
Miguel Cortés-Sánchez, Francisco J. Jiménez-Espejo, María D. Simón-Vallejo, Chris Stringer, María Carmen Lozano Francisco, Antonio García-Alix, José L. Vera Peláez, Carlos P. Odriozola, José A. Riquelme-Cantal, Rubén Parrilla Giráldez, Adolfo Maestro González, Naohiko Ohkouchi, Arturo Morales-Muñiz. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0753-6

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