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19 February 2015
Neanderthals disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula earlier than elsewhere

Neanderthals could have disappeared between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, according to fossil remains found at sites located from the Black Sea in Russia to the Atlantic coastline of Spain. A new study shows that they could have disappeared closer to 45,000 years ago in the Iberian Peninsula.
     "Both conclusions are complementary and not contradictory," confirms Bertila Galvan, lead author of the study, and researcher at the Training and Research Unit of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife.
     Until now, there was no direct dating in Spain on the Neanderthal remains which produced recent dates. "The few that provided dates were before 43,000 and 45,000 years ago in all cases," Galvan explains.
     The study proposes that the point of departure was 40,000 years, but recognises that the process is complex and regionalised.
     The study questions the existence of the Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula later than 43,000 years ago, referring specifically to the final occupations in El Salt, in Valencia - "A very robust archaeological context" in terms of the reliability of the remains, says the scientist.
     The new timeline for the disappearance of the Neanderthals allows for a regional reading, limited to the Iberian Peninsula, and coincides with remains found at other Spanish sites.
     The ample record of lithic objects and remains of fauna, as well as the extensive stratigraphic sequence of El Salt, have allowed the disappearance of the Neanderthals to be dated at a site that covers their last 30,000 years of existence.
     Together with this new dating is the discovery of six teeth that probably belonged to a young Neanderthal adult, and "could represent an individual of one of the last groups of Neanderthals which occupied the site, and possibly the region.
     Cristo Hernandez, another of the study's authors, says their analysis points to "a progressive weakening of the population... which must have been drawn out over several millennia."
     Anatomically modern humans had no role in this gradual disappearance, which coincided with colder and more arid conditions.
     The new dating has been proven in a sedimentary hiatus also found in other sites on the Iberian Peninsula.

Edited from PhysOrg (5 February 2015)

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