By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 10 February 2022 • 9:40
A paper published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances by researchers from Europe and the United States says that fossilised remains found in a French cave showed that Neanderthals and early humans were in the area long before they were thought to have been.
The researchers described finding fossilized homo sapiens remains and tools sandwiched between those of Neanderthals in the Mandrin Grotto, named after an 18th-century French folk hero.
The hillside dwelling overlooks the picturesque Rhone Valley in southern France, which researchers say: “The findings provide archaeological evidence that these hominine cousins may have coexisted in the same region of Europe during the same time period.”
With new techniques available to date remains, the researchers put those found at around 54,000 years ago, almost 10,000 years earlier than previous finds in Europe, with one exception in Greece.
Michael Petraglia, an expert on prehistory at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said: “This significantly deepens the known age of the colonization of Europe by modern humans.”
Petraglia, who was not involved in the study, said it had major implications for understanding the spread of modern humans and our interactions with the Neanderthals.
More than 30 years of work has gone into the cave which is 140 kilometres north of Marseille, in the south of France. Sifting through the layers of sand they have discovered hundreds of thousands of artefacts that they were able to attribute to either Neanderthals or modern humans. These included advanced stone tools known as “points” that were used by homo sapiens, our closest ancestors, to cut or scrape and as spear tips.
In present day Lebanon similar finds have been made, that’s some 3,000 kilometres from the cave suggesting that early humans may have traveled across the Mediterranean Sea according to Ludovic Slimak, one of the lead authors of the new study.
Although no evidence of cultural exchanges between the Neanderthals and modern humans who alternated in the cave was found, the rapid succession of occupants is in itself significant, they said. In one case, the cave changed hands in the space of about a year, said Slimak.
Katerina Harvati, a Professor of paleoanthropology at the University of Tuebingen, Germany, who was not involved in the study, said the findings upend the idea that most of the European continent was the exclusive domain of Neanderthals until 45,000 years ago.
However homo sapiens’ first venture into the region wasn’t particularly successful, she noted.
“Mandrin modern humans seem to have only survived for a very brief period of time and were replaced again by Neanderthals for several millennia,” she said.
Slimak, an Archaeologist at the University of Toulouse, said the findings at Mandrin suggest the Rhone River may have been a key link between the Mediterranean coast and continental Europe.
He said: “We are dealing with one of the most important natural migration corridors of all the ancient world.
“Mandrin is like a kind of Neanderthalian Pompeii,”
Slimak and his colleagues expect to publish several further significant findings based on the mountain of data collected from the French cave that housed Neanderthals and early humans, with a steady supply of sand carried in by the local Mistral winds has helped preserve a rich trove of treasures that rivals other famous archaeological sites.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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