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21 May 2011
Stone Age mystery near Arctic Circle

New findings in the north of the Russian Urals, at Byzovaya near the Arctic Circle, have the experts baffled. A team from the Universitie de Toulouse le Mirail, in France, led by anthropologist Dr Ludovic Slimak, together with Russian colleagues, has unearthed artifacts which, in theory, should not have been there. Animal bones were found which showed signs of being butchered by human made tools. That, in itself, is not of specific interest. The part that is raising eyebrows in the fact that the tools used are from the Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian culture, 300,000 to 40,000 years ago) but the finds are dated about 28,500 BCE.
     This means that Neanderthals were in the area far later than previously thought or known. The finds are also much further north than has previously been recorded. Could there be a mistake in the dating of the artifacts? Dr Slimak says not  "There were different laboratories using different methods, all giving very convergent date... We are not dealing with a radiometric measuring error, but with an historic and anthropological reality".
     So what conclusions can be drawn? Well, as no human fossil evidence has been found so far it is not possible to reach any concrete conclusions. The theories vary from this being a late surviving remnant of Neanderthals to a group of Homo Sapiens who had adopted the stone tool technology. Or could this be a group of interbred Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens?
     The last word must go to Dr Slimak: "About 500 square metres have already been excavated, but the site is very large and rich. Future surveys in these Arctic landscapes could reveal huge surprises. Arctic landscapes in Russia remain unexplored and could reveal more unexpected revelations. I believe that most of these very last Mousterian groups on the planet remain to be discovered".

Edited from Popular Archaeology, Discovery News, Science News (12 May 2011)

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