Improved dating of Neanderthal remains overturns previous conclusions

Vindija Cave Neanderthals were not a late-surviving group as previously thought, suggests study.

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES—Researchers report ages of Neanderthal remains using an improved dating technique. Neanderthal remains from Vindija Cave in northern Croatia have been previously dated at approximately 32,000 years old, making them the most recent known Neanderthal remains and implying considerable temporal overlap between Neanderthals and modern humans in Central Europe. Thibaut Deviese and colleagues dated four Neanderthal bone samples from Vindija, one of which was previously unidentified, by extracting the amino acid hydroxyproline (HYP) from bone collagen. Because HYP occurs almost exclusively in collagen, dating purified HYP removed modern contaminants, including conservation materials, from the specimens. The authors obtained dates older than 40,000 years for all four sets of Neanderthal remains, far older than previously obtained dates. Dating of animal bones from the same layer as the Neanderthal bones yielded a wide range of dates. The finding suggests that postdepositional mixing of material has occurred, and therefore Upper Paleolithic tools found alongside the Neanderthal bones may not necessarily date from the same period. The Neanderthals at Vindija Cave likely did not overlap with modern humans, and were not part of a late-surviving, refugial population as previously thought, according to the authors.



Vindija Cave in Croatia, which was occupied by Neanderthals more than 40,000 years ago. Credit: Image courtesy of Ivor Karavani



 Neanderthal bone found at Vindija Cave, Croatia. Credit: Thomas Higham


Article Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences news release


*”Direct dating of Neanderthal remains from the site of Vindija Cave and implications for the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition,” by Thibaut Deviese et al.


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