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About 40,000 years ago, during the Middle Paleolithic, theneanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) occupied a territory that was progressively replaced by theHomo sapiens.
But the details of this substitution, which marked the transition to the Upper Palaeolithic, remain unclear.
Some remains found a few years ago in the United Kingdom and Italy have already documented the earliest presence of modern humans in Western Europe; specifically between 44,200 and 41,500 years ago for the first deposit, and between 45,000 and 43,000 years for the second.
Both dates were based, however, on the analysis of the archaeological contexts of the fossils and not on the latter.
Two studies now published in the journalsNature YNature Ecology & Evolution allow for the first time to directly date human challenges and associate them with Upper Paleolithic artifacts thanks to the discovery in 2015 in theBacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria of acool and four small bone fragments fromHomo sapiens, along with a large collection of thousands of bones frombison, deer, horses, cave bearsYstones.
The analyzes byradiocarbon human bones, as well as animals, modified by theHomo sapiens and used as ornaments and artifacts, reveal that 45,000 years ago, coinciding with the expansion of Upper Palaeolithic technologies, the spread of modern humans took place in Europe, earlier than previously thought.
“The dates show that theHomo sapiens It was present in this European region 45,800 years ago and its migration probably began around 47,000 years ago. This is the first verified presence of theHomo sapiens in Europe”, Details Helen Fewlass, first author of one of the studies and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Dating thanks to molecular data
To reach these conclusions, researchers from more than twenty research centers around the world conducted a morphological analysis and they dated with great precision the human molar, which preserved DNA, and bone fragments that were impossible to recognize by their appearance.
The study of proteins, thanks to the mass spectrometry, confirmed the belonging of these unrecognizable bones to theHomo sapiens.
Along with the human remains, numerousstone tools Yanimal bones, with signs of human modification on their surfaces, which were probably hunted for their meat, but also for the use of gadgets.
“The most notable aspect of the faunal ensemble is the extensive collection of bone tools andpersonal ornaments"Says zoologist archaeologist Geoff Smith of the German center.
Cave bear teeth became, for example, pendants, similar to ornaments later made by Neanderthals in Western Europe.
According to Fewlass, these sets of tools and ornaments from the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic had already been found throughout Eurasia, from central Europe to Mongolia, but “until now there have been no human remains directly dated and securely associated with them”Fewlass emphasizes.
“These gadgets were suspected to have started to be produced by the first modern humans around 48,000 years ago. However, it had not been possible to prove it for lack of fossil evidence. Now we do it with our work at Bacho Kiro ”, says Jean-Jacques Hublin, one of the leaders of both works and a researcher at the German institute.
The research thus provides evidence of thefirst dispersal of theHomo sapiens in mid-latitudes of Eurasia, where it began to interact with Neanderthal populations possibly already in decline. This was the first wave of modern human migration to the continent, followed by others.
A coexistence of 8,000 years with Neanderthals
Bacho Kiro's findings show the transition period between the Neanderthals of the Middle Paleolithic and modern humans of the Upper Paleolithic.
According to the dating of the human remains found, this transition could last about 8,000 years, until Neanderthal extinction, between 40,000 and 39,000 years ago.
"The early presence ofHomo sapiens in the Bacho Kiro cave in southeastern Europe involves a long period ofcoexistence of the two species on the European continent ”, emphasizes Fewlass.
During this long stage of coexistence in which modern humans innovated in the way of making tools, thebehavior Neanderthals may have been influenced byHomo sapiens in the last thousands of years before they finally became extinct.
Proof of this is the similarity of the personal beads found in the Bulgarian cave with those made by the last Neanderthals in the French site of Grotte du Renne.
Helen Fewlass et al. "A 14C chronology for the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition at Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria"Nature Ecology and Evolution May 11, 2020.
Jean-Jacques Hublin et al. "Initial Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens from Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria"Nature May 11, 2020.
Source: Adeline Marcos / SINC