A new study has thrown a wrench into the theory that modern humans interacted and mated with Neanderthals after placing the extinction of the latter species much earlier than earlier findings.
According to the Associated Press, the study by a team of Australian and European researchers, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that a re-examination of Neanderthal bones from two sites in Spain, where they were last known to live, found them to be at least 50,000 years old.
By comparison, humans are not believed to have come into existence until 42,000 years ago, placing a substantial gap between the species.
“The results of our study suggest that there are major problems with the dating of the last Neanderthals in modern-day Spain,” said team member Thomas Higham. “It is unlikely that Neanderthals survived any later in this area than they did elsewhere in mainland Europe.”
The study was done using “ultrafiltration,” a new approach that eliminates carbon molecules that can make bones appear younger than they actually are. Another team member, Chris Stringer, told the AP that Neanderthal remains from other sites in Spain will need to be re-evaluated, given that previous studies had declared bones from the region to be 35,000 years old.
Stringer, a senior research fellow at Britain’s Natural History Museum, said that it’s also possible that the two species interacted, only much earlier than had been calculated.
“Evidence from Britain, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy is increasingly pointing to a modern human presence before 40,000 years ago,” he said. “The new chronology suggests that any interaction between the last Neanderthals and the earliest moderns in Europe will similarly move before, rather than after, 40,000 years.”
[Image by Matt Celeskey via Flickr Creative Commons]