Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Document Most Recent Date For Neandertals

Date:
October 27, 1999
Source:
Washington University In St. Louis
Summary:
An international team of scientists has documented through new radiocarbon dating that Neandertals roamed central Europe as recently as 28,000 years ago, representing the latest date ever recorded for Neandertal fossils worldwide.

St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 25, 1999 -- An international team of scientists has documented through new radiocarbon dating that Neandertals roamed central Europe as recently as 28,000 years ago, representing the latest date ever recorded for Neandertal fossils worldwide.

The team's findings -- published in the Oct. 26 issue of the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- may force other scientists to rethink theories of Neandertal extinction, intelligence and contributions to the human gene pool. The research on Neandertal fossils from the Vindija cave site in Croatia also casts doubt on the theory that the Iberian Peninsula was the Neandertals' last refuge.

"Most scientists would have expected to find the latest Neandertal in southwest Europe, rather than in central Europe," said paleontologist Fred H. Smith, a research team member and chairman of the Anthropology Department at Northern Illinois University. "The new radiocarbon dates suggest Neandertals would have coexisted with early modern humans in central Europe for several millennia."

"The extinction of the Neandertals by early modern humans, whether by displacement or population absorption, was a slow and geographically mosaic process," said team member Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. "The differences between the two groups in basic behavior and abilities must have been small and rather subtle."

Using direct accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating, team member Paul Pettitt and colleagues at Oxford University (England), determined that two pieces of Neandertal skulls from the Vindija cave site are between 28,000 and 29,000 years old.

The new Croatian dates refute previous evidence indicating central European Neandertals had disappeared by 34,000 years ago. Neandertals are commonly portrayed as prehistoric humans of limited capabilities who were rapidly replaced and driven to extinction by superior early modern humans, once the latter appeared in Europe. Scientists surmised that modern humans from the Near East moved first into central Europe and then into western Europe, pushing Neandertals into the Iberian Peninsula at the extreme southwest portion of the continent, where the Neandertals died off about 30,000 years ago.

Coupled with his earlier work at Vindija, Smith said the new radiocarbon dates call into question this pattern of Neandertal migration and extinction. In his earlier work, Smith also argued that late Neandertal fossils from the cave site had some modern human anatomical characteristics.

The Croatian dates indicating thousands of years of coexistence between Neandertals and early modern humans in central Europe cast in a different light a study in which scientists compared the DNA of a Neandertal with the DNA of contemporary humans. Published two years ago, the study concluded that, while Neandertals and early modern humans may have coexisted in Europe, they probably didn't mate.

"The new dates, in my opinion, add some support to the idea that there was probably a good deal of genetic exchange between Neandertals and modern humans," Smith said. "When you look at the anatomy of early modern Europeans, you also find a number of features that are hard to explain unless you allow the Neandertals some ancestral status. And actually, the Neandertal mitochondrial DNA is not completely out of the modern human range, just on its extreme periphery."

Moreover, the finding last year of a 24,500-year-old early modern human child with distinctive Neandertal characteristics in Portugal, published by Trinkaus and European colleagues in June 1999, strongly supports the conclusion that Neandertals and early modern humans both could and did share mates when they came into contact.

"Not only do we have the skeleton of a child in Portugal showing characteristics of common descent, but now we have evidence of the two groups coinciding in central Europe for several millennia allowing plenty of time for the populations to mix," said Trinkaus, a Washington University professor of anthropology in Arts and Sciences.

The new Croatian findings also raise the question of who created the ancient tools unearthed at the Vindija cave site, located about 34 miles north of the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Neandertals are commonly associated with relatively crude stone tools, while early modern humans made more sophisticated stone and bone tools. The Vindija site produced both kinds of tools, including a beveled bone probably used as the tip of a spear. "The big question is: 'Why do we have a combination of tools?' " Smith said.

"It's possible Neandertals developed all these tools or got the bone tools through trade with moderns," he added. Both of these possibilities run counter to the generally accepted idea that Neandertals could not produce bone or use more sophisticated stone and bone tools.

Smith and Trinkaus conceived of the research project, secured permission for dating of fossils and assembled the research team. Other team members are Ivor Karavanic at the University of Zagreb and Maja Paunovic of the Croatian Academy of Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University In St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University In St. Louis. "Scientists Document Most Recent Date For Neandertals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 October 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991027072728.htm>.
Washington University In St. Louis. (1999, October 27). Scientists Document Most Recent Date For Neandertals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991027072728.htm
Washington University In St. Louis. "Scientists Document Most Recent Date For Neandertals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991027072728.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

AP (Sep. 12, 2014) As the Star-Spangled Banner celebrates its bicentennial, Smithsonian curators are still uncovering fragments of the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. (Sept. 12) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins