Ancient mystery solved: They were Neanderthals

Protein analysis suggests makers of certain tools at Grotte du Renne archaeological site were Neanderthals, not modern humans.

Using ancient protein and DNA analysis to uncover a watershed moment in the origin of modern humans, a study* finds support for a Neanderthal provenance of Châtelperronian stone tools and bone artifacts at the Grotte du Renne archeological site in north-central France. Modern humans are thought to have displaced Neanderthals around 50,000-40,000 years ago in Eurasia. To help settle a debate about this major transition in human evolution, Frido Welker and colleagues performed mass spectrometry analysis of specimens found at the archaeological site of the Grotte du Renne in Arcy-sur-cure, France. Some studies suggest that the Châtelperronian stone tools found at the site can be traced back to the Upper Paleolithic and were made by modern humans, whereas others trace the tools to the preceding transitional period marked by the continued presence of Neanderthals, largely based on morphological identification of hominin remains. The authors identified 28 additional hominin bone specimens at Grotte du Renne that likely belonged to a breastfed infant. Through ancient protein analysis, the authors determined that the hominin specimens belonged to Late Pleistocene Neanderthals, not anatomically modern humans. Direct radiocarbon dating of ancient collagen protein extracted from one of the specimens suggested that the specimen likely dated to the Châtelperronian at the site. The findings reaffirm the association of the Châtelperronian tool-kit and bone artifacts at Grotte du Renne with Neanderthals, according to the authors.

Source: PNAS press release.


*”Palaeoproteomic evidence identifies archaic hominins associated with the Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne,” by Frido Welker et al., published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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 This richly illustrated issue includes the following stories: Recent findings shedding new light on the whereabouts of the remains of Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great; how an archaeologist-sculptor is bringing bones of the dead back to life; archaeologists uncovering town life at the dawn of civilization; an exclusive interview with internationally acclaimed archaeologist James M. Adovasio about what makes the Meadowcroft Rockshelter prominent in the ongoing search for the first Americans; what archaeologists are finding at the site of the ancient city of Gath, the home town of the biblical Philistine giant, Goliath; and how scientists are redrawing the picture of human evolution in Europe.  Find it on