Neanderthals and humans lived side by side in Northern Europe 45,000 years ago

January 31, 2024

The evidence that Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis lived side by side is consistent with genomic evidence that the two species occasionally interbred. It also feeds the suspicion that the invasion of Europe and Asia by modern humans some 50,000 years ago helped drive Neanderthals, which had occupied the area for more than 500,000 years, to extinction.

The genetic analysis, along with an archaeological and isotopic analysis and radiocarbon dating of the Ranis site, are detailed in a trio of papers appearing today in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The stone blades at Ranis, referred to as leaf points, are similar to stone tools found at several sites in Moravia, Poland, Germany and the United Kingdom. These tools that are thought to have been produced by the same culture, referred to as the Lincombian–Ranisian–Jerzmanowician (LRJ) culture or technocomplex. Because of previous dating, the Ranis site was known to be 40,000 years old or older, but without recognizable bones to indicate who made the tools, it was unclear whether they were the product of Neanderthals or Homo sapiens

The new findings demonstrate that "Homo sapiens made this technology, and that Homo sapiens were this far north at this time period, which is 45,000 years ago," said Elena Zavala, one of four first authors of the Nature paper and a Miller Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. "So these are among the earliest Homo sapiens in Europe."

Berkeley News