Research Shows Early Neanderthal Extinction on Iberian Peninsula

Dating results add more grist to the ongoing debate on the timing of Neanderthal extinction in Europe.

Some scientists have suggested that the Iberian Peninsula might have been one of the last refuge zones of the Neanderthals before their extinction. This is because certain sites in this region of Europe have, according to the researchers, revealed evidence of continued Neanderthal habitation less than 40,000 years ago. 

Recent findings of a team of scientists at a cave in Spain, however, have shed some additional light on the long-debated topic. Cristo M. Hernández of Universidad de La Laguna and colleagues performed thermoluminescence (TL) and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating tests on material recovered from El Salt, a Middle Palaeolithic site in Alicante, Spain, and came up with an archaeological sequence that shows a transition from recurrent to sporadic human occupation ending ultimately in the abandonment of the site, during the period between ca. 60 and 45 ka. 

“An abrupt sedimentary change towards the top of the sequence suggests a strong aridification episode coinciding with the last Neanderthal occupation of the site,” report Hernández and colleagues. “These results are in agreement with current chronometric data from other sites in the Iberian Peninsula and point towards possible breakdown and disappearance of the Neanderthal local population around the time of the Heinrich 5 event [aridification due to a climate fluctuation around 45,000 years ago].

Hernández suggests that Iberian sites with recent dates of less than 40,000 years ago and attributed to the Middle Palaeolithic should therefore be revised in the light of the data.*


*From the published abstract: Bertila Galván, Cristo M. Hernández, Carolina Mallol, Norbert Mercier, Ainara Sistiaga, Vicente Soler, New evidence of early Neanderthal disappearance in the Iberian Peninsula, to be published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Cover Photo, Top Left: Hairymuseummatt, Wikimedia Commons


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