Iberian Peninsula Was Not Shared By Neanderthals And Cro-Magnon Man
April 14, 2014

Neanderthals And Homo Sapiens Never Shared The Iberian Peninsula

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Previous research has placed both Neanderthals and modern humans, in the form of Cro-Magnons, in the Iberian Peninsula at the same time, around 40 thousand years ago.

However, a new study using more modern techniques has shown that these two humanoid species never lived together on the Iberian Peninsula – unlike parts of the Middle East where evidence has shown that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lived side-by-side and interbred.

Until recently, archeologists have been using carbon-14 dating to analyze the remains of earlier humans. However, one major drawback with this method is the fact that after 40,000 years, the amount of carbon-14 in a samples has degraded to the point that there is very little left. This “contamination” of the dating technique results in a sample being found to be much younger than it actually is.

Starting in 2005, archeologists began to use a technique involving the purification of collagen used in DNA tests. This technique removes the contamination associated with the carbon-14 dating method. The results of these more recent tests have been consistent across several European sites, according to the authors of the new study.

"We can see that the arrival of our species in Europe took place 8,000 years earlier than what had been thought and we can see the earliest datings of our species and the most recent Neanderthal ones, in which, in a specific regional framework, there is no overlapping," said study author Alvaro Arrizabalaga, professor of the department of Geography, Prehistory and Archaeology at UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country.

For the study, which was published in the Journal of Human Evolution, researchers gathered samples from sites at the westernmost and easternmost points of the Pyrenees Mountains – thought to be where the flow of populations and animals between the peninsula and continent happened.

"L'Arbreda is on the eastern pass; Labeko Koba, in the Deba valley, is located on the entry corridor through the Western Pyrenees and La Viña is of value as a paradigm, since it provides a magnificent sequence of the Upper Palaeolithic, in other words, of the technical and cultural behavior of the Cro-magnons during the last glaciations,” Arrizabalaga said.

The researchers said they only analyzed tools made of bones or bones with traces of human activity. After their analysis, they concluded that "the scene of the meeting between a Neanderthal and a Cro-magnon does not seem to have taken place on the Iberian Peninsula.”

The study team also noted that other similar updates to the old theories about Neanderthals in Europe have been made based on evidence found in Great Britain, Italy, Germany and France.

"For 25 years we had been saying that Neanderthals and early humans lived together for 8,000-10,000 years. Today, we think that in Europe there was a gap between one species and the other and, therefore, there was no hybridation, which did in fact take place in areas of the Middle East," Arrizabalaga said.

He said the newer technique pushes back the timeline for Neanderthals in Europe.

“Very recent dates had been obtained in them -up to 29,000 years - but the new datings go back to 44,000 years older than the first dates that can be attributed to the Cro-Magnons," Arrizabalaga said.