Homo sapiens may have reached Europe 10,000 years earlier than previously thought

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Stone age Homo sapiens began to migrate to Europe much earlier than is commonly believed.

According to new research, discovered in a stone vault in southern France, H. sapiens appeared in Europe 56,800 years ago. This is about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The French place called Grotte Mandrin was occupied in turn by the new arrivals H. sapiens and Neanderthals living in Europe, replacing each other several times before Neanderthals became extinct about 40,000 years ago, researchers report Feb. 9 in Science Advances .

The findings in the rock shelter, located 225 meters above the middle valley of the Rhône River, refute the popular belief that Neanderthals died out within a few thousand years after H. sapiens reached Europe, says archaeologist Ludovic Slimak of the University of Toulouse-Jean-Jaures in France.

Slimak has directed excavations at Grotte Mandrin for the past 24 years. Almost 60,000 stone artifacts and more than 70,000 bones of horses, bison and other animals were excavated in 12 layers of sediments. Only nine isolated hominid teeth were found in five of these layers. But these teeth can be attributed to the category of Neanderthals or H. sapiens based on their shapes and sizes, the researchers say. According to Slimak, the oldest material H. sapiens in the rock shelter contains one tooth of a child aged 2 to 6 years.

The dating of each sediment layer was based on radiocarbon age estimates of excavated bone artifacts and calculations of the time elapsed since each set of finds was buried and certain stones were heated during tool making.

Given this evidence, it now appears that groups H. sapiens periodically entered southern Europe long before the Neanderthals went extinct, says paleoanthropologist Isabelle Crevequer of the University of Bordeaux in France, who was not involved in the new study. “Arrival Homo sapiens to Europe after the death of the Neanderthals probably marked the end of a long, sometimes unsuccessful process of migration.”

According to Slimak, H. sapiens , who first settled in Grotte Mandrin, consisted of several dozen or more individuals. Archaeological evidence suggests that between 56,800 and 51,700 years ago, these ancient people inhabited the site for approximately 40 years. “This was not a short-term hunter-gatherer camp, but a preliminary colonization of Europe,” Slimak says.

Permanent Neanderthals and ancient migrants H. sapiens had at least brief contact, Slimak says. Flint, which H. sapiens used to make tools, came from sources located within 100 kilometers of the repository rock in all directions, knowledge that could only have been obtained with the help of Neanderthals who were already well versed in the landscape of the region, Slimak argues.

After a 40-year stay H. sapiens Neanderthals have returned to a rock shelter where their earliest occupations date back as far as 120,000 years ago, researchers have found. H. sapiens repopulated the site between about 44,100 and 41,500 years ago—about 14,000 years after their first visit. After that, the Neanderthals left no sign of returning.

In an unexpected twist, small stone points and blades made by Grotte Mandrin H. sapiens as much as 56,800 years ago, coincide with those previously attributed H. sapiens at a site in Lebanon that dates to about 40,000 years ago. Archaeologists have spent more than a century trying to figure out who made the same types of stone tools around the same time at several sites in the middle Rhone valley, including the Grotte Mandrin.

The ancient Near Easterners, whose descendants made tools in Lebanon, traveled about 3,000 kilometers to reach the Grotte Mandrin, probably by sailing some kind of vessels along the Mediterranean coast, Slimak suspects. According to his assumption, their tool-making traditions were passed down over many generations by groups living near the rock shelter.

Although there is no evidence of ancient sea voyages from the Near East to present-day southern France, “it appears that H. sapiens arrived in Europe several times, and we cannot rule out that [вони] arrived even earlier than 56,000 years ago,” says the paleoanthropologist. Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna in Italy, who was not part of Slimak’s team.

But the significance of the finds in Grotte Mandrin, as well as the evolutionary connection H. sapiens with Neanderthals, is controversial. According to evolutionary biologist Clive Finlayson of the National Museum of Gibraltar, one tooth H. sapiens dated between 56,800 and 51,700 years ago, cannot conclusively demonstrate that H. sapiens, not Neanderthals, made the tools found in this layer of sediment.

Genetic evidence indicates interbreeding between Neanderthals and H. sapienswhich raises the possibility that hybrid descendants of these populations made stone tools in France, Finlayson says.

To confirm the evolutionary identity of the various Grotte Mandrin Stone Age toolmakers, Slimak’s team is now trying to extract ancient DNA from hominid teeth and sediment at the site.

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