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2 October 2014
43,000-year-old modern human settlement in Central Europe

In 1908 the famous Venus of Willendorf was discovered during an excavation near the Austrian town of Melk. The statuette has been dated to 30,000 years ago, and is one of the world's earliest examples of figurative art.
     Now a team of archaeologists has dated a number of stone tools recently excavated from the same site to 43,500 years ago, and identified the tools as belonging to the Aurignacian culture, making them significantly older than other known Aurignacian artefacts, which have been found all over Europe.
     It is agreed that modern humans dispersed into Europe, and began to replace Neanderthals, at least 40,000 years ago. The new research pushes this date back to a time when temperatures north of the Alps were cool.
     "Recent finds at the Willendorf site contribute valuable new information to the debate about modern human colonisation of Europe," says team leader Dr Philip Nigst of the University of Cambridge. "The remarkably early date of the finds shows that modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped for much longer than we thought and that modern humans coped well with a variety of climates. The date of the artefacts represents the oldest well-documented occurrence of modern humans in Europe."
     The tools include small 'bladelets', which were originally part of composite tools and may have been used as projectile points.
     Dr Nigst concludes: "The picture emerging from our study is fascinating because we see significant changes in the material culture of the last Neanderthals - and these changes occur at the same time that modern humans were present at Willendorf. The timing of these events cannot be a coincidence."

Edited from Popular Archaeology (22 September 2014), University of Cambridge (23 September 2014)

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