Last Neanderthals died out 37,000 years ago

January 26, 2010

The paper, by Professor João Zilhão and colleagues, builds on his 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 by Professor Zilhão 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).

Professor Zilhão and colleagues now report new dating evidence for the Late Aurignacian of Portugal, an archaeological culture unquestionably associated with modern humans, that firmly constrains the age of the last Neanderthals of southern and western Iberia to no younger than some 37,000 years ago.

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.

These findings 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.

Professor Zilhão said: "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.

"Population decrease and a break-up of interaction networks probably occurred as a result of the expansion of such tree-covered landscapes, favouring 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."
-end-
Paper
'Pego do Diabo (Loures, Portugal): Dating the Emergence of Anatomical Modernity in Westernmost Eurasia' by João Zilhão, Simon J. M. Davis, Cidália Duarte, António Soares, Peter Steier, Eva Wild in PLoS ONE

University of Bristol

Related Neanderthals Articles from Brightsurf:

Neanderthals already had their characteristic barrel-shaped rib cages at birth
Neanderthal babies were born with the characteristic barrel-shaped rib cage shape previously identified in adult specimens, according to an analysis of digitally reconstructed rib cages from four Neanderthal infants.

Early admixture with humans led to Y chromosome replacement in late Neanderthals
In one of the first studies to comprehensively analyze Y chromosomes of humans' two closest relatives, Denisovans and Neanderthals, researchers report what prior studies have suggested: early gene flow events between archaic and modern humans led to the eventual replacement of archaic Neanderthal Y chromosomes by introgressed Homo sapiens Y chromosomes.

A 48,000 years old tooth that belonged to one of the last Neanderthals in Northern Italy
A child between 11 and 12 years of age lost it near the ''Riparo del Broion'' on the Berici Hills in Veneto.

How Neanderthals adjusted to climate change
Climate change occurring shortly before their disappearance triggered a complex change in the behaviour of late Neanderthals in Europe: they developed more complex tools.

Neanderthals of Western Mediterranean did not become extinct because of changes in climate
According to paleoclimatic reconstructions analysing stalagmites sampled in some caves in the Murge plateau (Apulia, Italy), Neanderthals might have become extinct because Sapiens employed more sophisticated hunting technologies

Doubts about the Nerja cave art having been done by neanderthals
Prehistory research staff at the University of Cordoba is investigating the reliability of Uranium-thorium dating for a chronological study of Paleolithic art and is contesting that Neanderthals made the Paeolithic art in Spanish caves.

ADHD: genomic analysis in samples of Neanderthals and modern humans
The frequency of genetic variants associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has decreased progressively in the evolutionary human lineage from the Palaeolithic to nowadays, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Supercomputer model simulations reveal cause of Neanderthal extinction
IBS climate scientists discover that according to new supercomputer model simulations, only competition between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens can explain the rapid demise of Neanderthals around 43 to 38 thousand years ago.

Icelandic DNA jigsaw-puzzle brings new knowledge about Neanderthals
An international team of researchers has put together a new image of Neanderthals based on the genes Neanderthals left in the DNA of modern humans when they had children with them about 50,000 years ago.

Neanderthal cord weaver
Contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals were no less technologically advanced than Homo sapiens.

Read More: Neanderthals News and Neanderthals Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.