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A study conducted in Bajondillo Cave (Torremolinos, Málaga) by an international team made up of researchers from Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom reveals that modern humans replaced Neanderthals about 44,000 years ago.
This work, published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution and in which scientists from the universities of Granada (UGR), Seville and Córdoba participate, shows that the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans in southern Iberia is an early phenomenon, not late, in the context of Western Europe.
That is to say, it occurred 5,000 years earlier than previously thought till the date.
Western Europe is a key area for dating the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans. The former are associated with Mousterian industries (named after the Neanderthal site of Le Moustier in France), and the second with the Aurignacian industries (named after the also French site of Aurignac) that succeeded them.
To date, radiocarbon dates available in Western Europe they dated the completion of this replacement to around 39,000 yearsAlthough in the south of the Iberian Peninsula the survival of the Mousterian industries (and, therefore, of the Neanderthals) would last until 32,000 years, and there is no evidence of the early Aurignacian in the area that is documented in Europe.
The new dates of Cueva Bajondillo (Torremolinos, Málaga) limit the replacement of the Mousterian industries by the Aurignacian industries in a range between 45 and 43,000 years, which raises questions about the late survival of the Neanderthal in southern Iberia.
Early replacement throughout southern Spain?
Further research will be necessary to determine if these new dates effectively evidence an earlier replacement of Neanderthals throughout the southern peninsula, or if there were more complex scenarios of coexistence "in mosaic" between both groups for millennia.
Be that as it may, the data disclosed in the article by Nature Ecology and Evolution demonstrate that the implantation of modern humans in Cueva Bajondillo it is detached from extreme cold phenomena (the so-called Heinrich events), being prior to the closest of these events, the Heinrich 4 event (39,500 years).
Francisco J. Jimenez-Espejo, researcher at the Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences (CSIC-UGR) and one of the co-authors of the article, points out that the Heinrich events «represent the most intense and variable climatic conditions in Western Europe on a millennium scale although, in this coastal region of the Mediterranean, they do not seem to have been involved in the transition from Mousterian to Aurignacian”.
The location of Bajondillo points to the coastal corridors as the preferred route in the dispersal of the first modern humans.
In this sense, the researchers affirm that find an Aurignacian so early in a cave so close to the sea reinforces the idea that the Mediterranean coast was a route for modern humans who penetrated EuropeThe dates are reinforced by those evidences that point to more than 40,000 years ago Homo sapiens had spread rapidly throughout much of Eurasia.
Lastly, the authors of the study suggest that the evidence from Cueva Bajondillo revitalizes the importance of coastal areas. the idea of the Strait of Gibraltar as a potential dispersal route for modern humans that came out of Africa.
The UGR researcher Antonio García-Alix Daroca, from the Stratigraphy and Paleontology department of the UGR, has been in charge of carrying out the Bayesian and carbon 14 analyzes of the dates.
Miguel Cortés-Sánchez, Francisco J. Jiménez-Espejo, María D. Simón-Vallejo, Chris Stringer, María Carmen Lozano Francisco, Antonio García-Alix4, José L. Vera Peláez, Carlos Odriozola Lloret, José A. Riquelme-Cantal7, Rubén Parrilla Giráldez, Adolfo Maestro González, Naohiko Ohkouchi, Arturo Morales-Muñiz. "An early Aurignacian arrival in southwestern Europe". Nature Ecology and Evolution (2019) DOI: 10.1038 / s41559-018-0753-6.