According to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, humans and Neanderthals could have coexisted in Europe for up to 2,900 years , giving them time to learn from each other and reproduce with each other. This means that the two species lived together in the region, marking the first evidence showing how long and where the pair interbred before archaic human subspecies became extinct.
They lived alongside Neanderthals for more than 1,000 years in Europe.
Previously, it was known that modern humans and their ancient relatives existed concurrently on the European continent for more than 6,000 years and that the two species interbred on several occasions. But the extent of their interactions remained the focus of scientific investigation.
The study authors focused their attention on France and northern Spain, where the last Neanderthals likely lived. In their new study, archaeologists examined 56 modern human and Neanderthal artifacts from up to 17 archaeological sites in southwestern, central and Mediterranean France and northern Spain, as well as 10 additional Neanderthal specimens from the same region. They then applied an optimal linear estimation model to estimate the earliest and latest dates that humans and Neanderthals would have been present at each of these locations (all dating was done with computer models using an optimal linear estimate based on in Bayes’s theorem ).
Parallel appearance of artifacts
Using this tool, the scientists determined that humans were present about 42,500 years ago and that the archaic human subspecies appeared about 40,000 years ago before disappearing about 1,000 years later, giving more than enough room for confirmation of this coexistence.
The model found that Neanderthal artifacts first appeared between 45,343 and 44,248 years ago, and disappeared between 39,894 and 39,798 years ago, about 9,000 years before their extinction. Those belonging to modern humans first appeared between 42,653 and 42,269 years ago, which is how the team determined that the two coexisted for 1,400 to 2,900 years.
“Taken together, these observations strengthen the proposition that the early Upper Palaeolithic in this region likely involved a period of coexistence between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens ,” the scientists said. “However, the precise nature of this coexistence remains to be resolved.”
Mind you, the work sheds no light on whether modern humans had any role in the Neanderthals’ demise. The most widely accepted theory is that Neanderthals were absorbed into these populations of Homo sapiens.
“The work published in Scientific Reports deals with a current topic subject, in some extremes, to a wide debate. The available data have been used, which, in principle, have the best guarantees. Likewise, appropriate statistical models have been used to process the data and the general conclusion is very interesting and will have to be evaluated in detail to definitively establish the Neanderthal/sapiens transition in France and the Iberian Peninsula . However, the incorporation of deposits from the Iberian Peninsula outside the northern zone is missing in order to have a complete vision of the phenomenon, since what was once called the “Ebro border” seems not to be viable. On the other hand, no mention is made of the important taphonomic problems that are being detected in the sites that affect both interstratigraphic contamination and the entity of the sites under analysis, ” Marco de la Rasilla Vives explains to Science Media Center Spain . , researcher in the area of Prehistory in the Department of History at the University of Oviedo.
Referencia: Igor Djakovic et al. “Optimal linear estimation models predict 1400–2900 years of overlap between Homo sapiens and Neandertals prior to their disappearance from France and northern Spain”. Scientific Reports (2022)