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29 April 2015
Dental remains point to Proto-Aurignacian culture

Dental remains from two different sites in Italy suggest that modern humans were responsible for the Proto-Aurignacian culture, artifacts of which are associated with the arrival of Homo sapiens, or modern humans, in Western Europe.
     Stefano Benazzi and colleagues of the University of Bologna in Italy came to this conclusion after studying two 41,000-year-old incisors recovered in 1976 and 1992 at excavations at the Riparo Bombrini rock shelter (Ventimiglia, Italy) and Grotta di Fumane (Verona, Italy) sites.
     At the time, researchers were unable to tell whether they belonged to modern humans or Neandertals. But in the new study, researchers used 3D digital imaging methods, including computerized tomography scans, to measure the thickness of the enamel of one of the teeth, found at Riparo Bombrini. The enamel was thick, as in modern humans, rather than relatively thin, as in Neandertals. The researchers were also able to extract maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the other tooth from Grotta di Fumane, which was compared to that of present-day humans, ancient modern humans, Neandertals, Denisovans, a hominin from Spain, and a chimpanzee.
     The researchers confirmed that the Proto-Aurignacian incisors belonged to modern humans, making them the oldest human remains associated with Aurignacian culture.
     Researchers have wondered if the Proto-Aurignacian culture, known for its bladelets and simple ornaments, was a human or Neandertal industry - and whether it gave rise to the modern human Aurignacian culture in southern France. Since Neandertals had disappeared from Western Europe by about 39,260 years ago, Benazzi and his colleagues suggest that the Proto-Aurignacian may have triggered their decline.

Edited from Science Magazine, Popular Archaeology (23 April 2015)

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