The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance

Authors/others:Higham, Tom (University of Oxford); Douka, Katerina (University of Oxford); Wood, Rachel (University of Oxford); Ramsey, Christopher Bronk (University of Oxford); Brock, Fiona (University of Oxford); Basell, Laura (Queen's University Belfast); Camps, Marta (University of Maryland, College Park); Arrizabalaga, Alvaro (University of the Basque Country); Baena, Javier (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid); Barroso-Ruíz, Cecillio (Fundación Instituto de Investigación de Prehistoria y Evolución Humana); Bergman, Christopher (URS); Boitard, Coralie; Boscato, Paolo (Università Degli Studi di Siena); Caparrós, Miguel (National Museum of Natural History); Conard, Nicholas J. (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen); Draily, Christelle (Service Public de Wallonie); Froment, Alain (Musée de L'Homme); Galván, Bertila (Universidad de La Laguna); Gambassini, Paolo (Università Degli Studi di Siena); Garcia-Moreno, Alejandro (Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, Schloss Monrepos); Grimaldi, Stefano (Università degli Studi di Trento); Haesaerts, Paul (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences); Holt, Brigitte (University of Massachusetts); Iriarte-Chiapusso, Maria Jose (University of the Basque Country); Jelinek, Arthur (University of Arizona); Jordá Pardo, Jesús F. (Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia (UNED)); Maíllo-Fernández, José Manuel (Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia (UNED)); Marom, Anat (University of Oxford); Maroto, Julià (Universitat de Girona); Menéndez, Mario (Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia (UNED)); Metz, Laure (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique); Morin, Eugène (Trent University); Moroni, Adriana (Università Degli Studi di Siena); Negrino, Fabio (Università degli Studi di Genova); Panagopoulou, Eleni (Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology of Southern Greece); Peresani, Marco (Universitá degli studi di Ferrara); Pirson, Stéphane (Service Public de Wallonie); De La Rasilla, Marco (University of Oviedo); Riel-Salvatore, Julien (Université de Montréal); Ronchitelli, Annamaria (Università Degli Studi di Siena); Santamaria, David (University of Oviedo); Semal, Patrick (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences); Slimak, Ludovic (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique); Soler, Joaquim (Universitat de Girona); Soler, Narcís (Universitat de Girona); Villaluenga, Aritza (Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, Schloss Monrepos); Pinhasi, Ron (University College Dublin); Jacobi, Roger (British Museum London)
Abstract:The timing of Neanderthal disappearance and the extent to which they overlapped with the earliest incoming anatomically modern humans (AMHs) in Eurasia are key questions in palaeoanthropology. Determining the spatiotemporal relationship between the two populations is crucial if we are to understand the processes, timing and reasons leading to the disappearance of Neanderthals and the likelihood of cultural and genetic exchange. Serious technical challenges, however, have hindered reliable dating of the period, as the radiocarbon method reaches its limit at ~50,000 years ago. Here we apply improved accelerator mass spectrometry 14C techniques to construct robust chronologies from 40 key Mousterian and Neanderthal archaeological sites, ranging from Russia to Spain. Bayesian age modelling was used to generate probability distribution functions to determine the latest appearance date. We show that the Mousterian ended by 41,030-39,260 calibrated years BP (at 95.4% probability) across Europe. We also demonstrate that succeeding `transitional' archaeological industries, one of which has been linked with Neanderthals (Châtelperronian), end at a similar time. Our data indicate that the disappearance of Neanderthals occurred at different times in different regions. Comparing the data with results obtained from the earliest dated AMH sites in Europe, associated with the Uluzzian technocomplex, allows us to quantify the temporal overlap between the two human groups. The results reveal a significant overlap of 2,600-5,400 years (at 95.4% probability). This has important implications for models seeking to explain the cultural, technological and biological elements involved in the replacement of Neanderthals by AMHs. A mosaic of populations in Europe during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition suggests that there was ample time for the transmission of cultural and symbolic behaviours, as well as possible genetic exchanges, between the two groups.
Number of pages:4
Date of publication:21.8.2014
Journal title:Nature
Peer reviewed:true
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Publication Type:Article