Monday, September 18, 2006

The Neanderthals became extinct at least 4.000 years later than people thought

Why did the Neanderthals become extinct? Until when and where did they live? Which relationships had they had with the anatomically modern humans during the period they have coincided? These ones are some key questions that haven’t been answered yet. A study published this week at the web site of the prestigious magazine Nature, and in which have participated the IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution) and the Prehistory Area of the University Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona, provides very valuable information about this debate: the excavations carried out at the Cave of Gorham, in Gibraltar, would prove that it was a shelter for the Neanderthals at least 28,000 years ago, about 4000 years later of the date agreed until now to their extinction, and therefore in a very recent period in the long journey of the human evolution.

The datings made at the cave in many different types of sediment have been definitive to conclude this; sediments which have given an antiquity of 33,000 to 23,000 years in the level IV of the stratigraphic sequence. The date validated for the extinction of the Neanderthals, before this study, was about 35,000 years, attending to some discoveries of the archaeological sites of Cesaire and Arcy-sur-Cure, both in France.

The article about the Cave of Gorham published by Nature in its web site, has been signed by 26 authors from 17 different centers of research which work directed by the archaeologist Clive Finlayson, with the objective of obtain a multidisciplinary perspective. The IPHES and the URV take part with two disciplines: taphonomy, which analyses the remains of bones and their process of fossilization, and which is in charge of Isabel Cáceres; and anthracology, which investigates the coals that come from the hearths made by the inhabitants of the cave, and in charge of Ethel Allué. The taphonomy provides information about the behaviour of the Neanderthals in relation with the hunting and the processing of the animal remains recovered in the archaeological site, while the anthracology contributes to know how was the vegetal landscape and the exploitation they made of it.

The lithic industry found at the Cave of Gorham, Gibraltar, with an antiquity of 28,000 years B.P., and possibly of 24,000 years, belongs to the Mousterian culture, with instruments very worked and specialized, attributed to the Neanderthals. These tools belonged to a group of this species which have occupied this cave in a moment of deterioration of the weather, with colder temperatures and with an environment rich and varied of ecological resources (plants and animals). The new research confirms, in consequence, the importance of the Iberian Peninsula as a shelter area for the Neanderthals, when the modern humans (sapiens) were expanded and diversified culturally to other areas of Europe.

The discoveries of Gibraltar allow also recovering the scientific discussion about the fossil of a child, dated in 24,500 years, appeared in Lagar Velho (Portugal) some years ago, and which has been associated to artifacts of the Upper Palaeolithic. This child presents hybrid anatomical characteristics of what could have been a combination of Neanderthal and anatomically modern human, which could suggest the communal life between both species, but the hypothesis received critiques because of the recent date and the extinction of the Neanderthals. The study published by Nature will oblige to review these considerations.

1 comment:

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