New dates for Neanderthal and AMH Overlap…….

A paper published in Nature today outlines a revised chronology for Neanderthal and AMH cohabitation in areas of Europe. The team behind the paper includes “Mr Radiocarbon” aka Tom Highham of RLAHA at the University of Oxford. The team analysed 200 samples from 40 sites across Europe.  They used a more precise c14 technique and applied new mathematical modelling to conclude that pockets of Neanderthals survived between 41,030 and 39,260 years ago. Given that AMH is known to arrived in these areas by around 45-43,000 years ago it gives a potential overlap of approximately 2500-4500 thousand years.  The conclusions are based on a mixture of stone tool and skeletal samples and certainly produce a thought-provoking paper.  But there are a number of issues that jump out – the team don’t really follow their conclusions through enough – what about the differences between genetic exchange (around 80-110 KYA) and the suggested skeletal evidence for interbreeding (45-35 KYA)? Similarly what about the end of the Châtelperronian industry? But perhaps one of the biggest problem is the geographical selectivity the authors have employed in selecting their samples. They have gone for areas where the relationship between bones and stones are well known but ignored areas where the relationship is more confused and arguably more important such as Eastern Europe – the paper by Roksandic et al (A human mandible (BH-1) from the Pleistocene deposits of Mala Balanica cave (Sicevo Gorge, Nis, Serbia. JHE, 2011, 61, pp186-196) clearly shows how important and understudied this area is for understanding Neanderthal dispersal and extinction.  William Davies has a written an excellent accompanying descriptive piece in the same issue of Nature and provides a much needed level headed approach to the paper.

Ultimately the paper is an interesting contribution to the debates surrounding Neanderthal extinction, AHM dispersal into Europe and the question of interbreeding but the gaps in the analysis leave many unanswered questions and is at times too reliant on stone tools with no direct attribution to skeletal material (and despite what some would suggest an unattributed stone tool is not diagnostic of a species). But it does give us another tool to help understand the Neanderthals and their relationship to us. As William Davies says what this now means is we want more data please!




The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance

Tom Higham, Katerina Douka, Rachel Wood, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Fiona Brock, Laura Basell, Marta Camps, Alvaro Arrizabalaga, Javier Baena, Cecillio Barroso-Ruíz, Christopher Bergman, Coralie Boitard, Paolo Boscato, Miguel Caparrós, Nicholas J. Conard, Christelle Draily, Alain Froment, Bertila Galván, Paolo Gambassini, Alejandro Garcia-Moreno, Stefano Grimaldi, Paul Haesaerts, Brigitte Holt, Maria-Jose Iriarte-Chiapusso, Arthur Jelinek et al.

Nature 512, 306–309 (21 August 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13621


Palaeoanthropology: The time of the last Neanderthals

William Davies

Nature 512, 260–261 (21 August 2014) doi:10.1038/512260a


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: