Research shows Neanderthals’ coexistence with humans from Africa

Neanderthals were extremely advanced for their time

Neanderthals coexisted with early modern humans in Europe for up to 5,400 years, according to researchers from Oxford university who used new techniques to pinpoint when the early cousins of Homo sapiens became extinct.

Scientists used radiocarbon dating evidence for 200 bone, charcoal and shell samples from 40 European archaeological sites to show that the two human groups overlapped for a significant period of time.

It took 300,000 more years for classic Neanderthals with larger brains to evolve. They dominated human life in Eurasia until Homo sapiens, our ancestors, swept in from Africa less than 80,000 years ago. The last Neanderthals died out 20,000 to 30,000 years ago in the Iberian peninsula, their last refuge.

Scientists used radiocarbon dating evidence for 200 bone, charcoal and shell samples from 40 European archaeological sites to show that the two human groups overlapped for a significant period of time.

They also concluded that Neanderthals disappeared gradually at different times in different locations, rather than undergoing rapid extinction.

It was already known that there was some contact and interbreeding between the two groups because research has shown that about 1.5-2.1 per cent of the DNA of modern non-African humans originates from Neanderthals.

However, the Oxford research published in the journal Nature on Wednesday provides the most detailed timeline so far of how this process unfolded.

Neanderthals – a human subspecies related to, but genetically different from Homo sapiens – had lived in Europe for hundreds of thousands of years when the first modern humans migrated out of Africa.

Using the latest carbon dating techniques, researchers were able to establish that the Mousterian toolmaking industry attributed to Neanderthals ended between 39,260 and 41,030 years ago.

Based on the latest evidence of when modern humans arrived in Europe, this suggested the two groups overlapped for between 2,600 and 5,400 years.

It is thought they died out because they were unable to compete with modern humans for food and resources but pinpointing the precise time when this happened has been difficult.

Source: FT