Neanderthals died out 10,000 yrs earlier than previously thought

Previous studies had suggested that the most recent Neanderthals died around 33,000 years ago. But using the most up-to-date dating techniques, scientists have dated the remains of two infants of the archaic species to around 40,000 years ago. 

Carbon-dated Neanderthal remains from the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains have suggested that Neanderthals had died out before modern humans arrived. 

The remains are almost 10,000 years older than expected. They come from just one cave in western Russia, called Mezmaiskaya, but bones at other Neanderthal sites farther west could also turn out to be more ancient than previously thought, said Thomas Higham, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Oxford, UK, and a co-author of a study. 

The implication is that Neanderthals and humans might never have met in Europe, said Higham’s team. 

“I don’t believe there were regions where Neanderthals were living next to modern humans. I just don’t find it very feasible,” said Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Cork in Ireland and lead author of the latest study. 

Carbon dating of stone tools characteristic to humans and Neanderthals, as well as their physical remains, has previously given the impression that the first humans to reach Europe, between about 40,000 and 30,000 years ago, shared the continent with Neanderthals long established there. 

However, carbon dating of bones older than about 30,000 years is skirting the limits of the technology, because by that age nearly all of the radioactive carbon has decayed, said Higham. 

The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Source: ANI [May 10, 2011]

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