A French cave tells a new story about Neanderthals, the first humans
A hillside dwelling overlooking the scenic Rhone Valley in southern France proved irresistible to our ancestors, attracting both Neanderthals and modern humans long before the latter reached this part of Europe. Europe, according to a new study.
In an article published Wednesday by the journal Scientists progressresearchers from Europe and the United States have described finding fossilized remains of Homo sapiens and tools sandwiched between those of Neanderthals in Mandrin Cave, named after an 18th-century French folk hero.
“The findings provide archaeological evidence that these hominid cousins may have co-existed in the same region of Europe during the same time period,” the team said.
Using new techniques, the authors dated some of the human remains to around 54,000 years ago, nearly 10,000 years earlier than previous finds in Europe, with one exception in Greece.
“It deepens the known age of the colonization of Europe by modern humans considerably,” said Michael Petraglia, a prehistory expert at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.
Petraglia, who was not involved in the study, said it had major implications for understanding the spread of modern humans and our interactions with Neanderthals.
Researchers said they have spent more than 30 years carefully sifting through layers of soil inside the cave, located 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of the French Mediterranean city of Marseille. They discovered hundreds of thousands of artifacts that they were able to attribute to either Neanderthals or modern humans. These included advanced stone tools called “points” which were used by homo sapiens – our closest ancestors – for cutting or scraping and as spear points.
Similar tools from almost exactly the same period have been found about 3,000 kilometers (almost 1,900 miles) away in present-day Lebanon, indicating that modern humans with a common culture may have crossed the Mediterranean Sea. , said Ludovic Slimak, one of the main authors of the new study.
While the researchers found no evidence of cultural exchanges between Neanderthals and modern humans who alternated in the cave, the rapid succession of occupants is in itself significant, they said. In one instance, the cave changed hands within about a year, Slimak said.
Katerina Harvati, a professor of paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen, Germany, who was not involved in the study, said the results upset the idea that most of the European continent was the exclusive domain of Neanderthals until 45,000 years ago.
However, Homo sapiens’ first venture into the region was not particularly successful, she noted.
“Modern chuck humans appear to have survived for only a very short time and were again replaced by Neanderthals for several millennia,” she said.
Slimak, an archaeologist at the University of Toulouse, said the finds at Mandrin suggest the Rhône may have been a key link between the Mediterranean coast and mainland Europe.
“We are dealing with one of the most important natural migration corridors in the entire ancient world,” he said.
He and his colleagues expect to publish several other important findings based on the mountain of data collected in the cave. Slimak said a steady supply of sand carried by the local Mistral winds has helped preserve a rich trove of treasures that rivals other famous archaeological sites.
“Chuck is like a kind of Neanderthal Pompeii,” he said.
Closer examination shows that the Neanderthals of La Cotte de St Brelade interbred with modern humans
Ludovic Slimak et al, Modern human incursion into Neanderthal territories 54,000 years ago in Mandrin, France, Scientists progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj9496. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abj9496
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A French cave tells a new story about Neanderthals, the first humans (2022, February 9)
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