Timing of Neanderthal disappearance from Northwest Europe

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES—Neanderthal remains from a Belgian cave may be thousands of years older than previously reported, according to a study. The timing of Neanderthal disappearance remains uncertain, and previous radiocarbon dating of Neanderthal remains from Spy Cave in Belgium has yielded ages as recent as approximately 24,000 years ago, placing the finds among the latest surviving Neanderthals in Europe. However, the reliability of these dates is uncertain due to possible sample contamination. Thibaut Devièse and colleagues re-dated four Spy Cave Neanderthal specimens using compound-specific radiocarbon analysis. In this method, a single amino acid, hydroxyproline, was isolated from bone collagen and dated, thereby minimizing risks of unremoved contamination. Most of the dates obtained using this method were much older than those obtained previously–up to 10,000 years in certain cases. The authors also dated Neanderthal specimens from two additional Belgian sites, Fonds-de-Forêt and Engis, and obtained ages comparable to those from Spy Cave. Based on the newly obtained radiocarbon dates, the authors estimate that Neanderthals disappeared from the region 44,200-40,600 years ago, much earlier than previously published dates suggest. The results support the use of robust pretreatment methods when dating Paleolithic human remains to minimize biases due to contamination, according to the authors.


Maxilla and mandible assemblage of a late Neanderthal from Spy Cave, Belgium. Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences/Patrick Semal.


Article Source: PNAS news release

*”Reevaluating the timing of Neanderthal disappearance in Northwest Europe,” by Thibaut Devièse et al.

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