Modern humans replaced the Neandertals in southern Spain some 44,000 years ago, some 5,000 years before the date that had been given for good for the whole of Europe, according to a study conducted by researchers from Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom in Bajondillo Cave, located in the town of Torremolinos in Malaga.
At work, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, Scientists from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) have taken part, arguing that it is necessary to review some of the existing theories about the substitution of Neandertals by homo sapies, fundamental to understand today's man.
According to these researchers, Western Europe is a key area to fix the replacement of Neandertals by modern humans since the former are associated with Mousterian industries (nominated from the Neanderthal site of Le Moustier, in France) and the latter with the auriñacienses (denominated thus by the French deposit of Aurignac).
"Until now, the radiocarbon dates available in Western Europe dated the conclusion of the replacement around 39,000 years ago, although in the south of the Iberian Peninsula the survival of the Mousterian industries and, therefore, the Neanderthals, would continue until the 32,000 years, there is no evidence in the area of the early Aurignacian that was documented in Europe, "explains the CSIC in a statement.
The new dates, however, delimit this substitution in a range of between 45,000 and 43,000 years before the present, which raises questions about a late survival of the Neanderthals in southern Iberia. The researchers suggest that further research will be needed to determine whether the new dates show an earlier disappearance of Neandertals throughout the peninsular south or more complex scenarios of "mosaic" coexistence between the two groups for millennia.
Not related to the cold
The results of the study show that the implantation of modern humans in Cueva Bajondillo is isolated from phenomena of extreme cold, the so-called Heinrich events, being later than the dates that are known of the closest event (39,500 years). "The Heinrich events represent the most intense and variable climatic conditions in Western Europe at millennium scale but in this coastal region of the Mediterranean they do not seem to be involved in the transition from Mousteriense to Auriñaciense," explains Francisco Jimenez, CSIC researcher at the Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences.
The researchers believe that the coastal corridors acted as a preferred route in the dispersion of the first modern humans. "Finding a 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 Europe. This reinforces the evidence that more than 40,000 years ago Homo sapiens had spread rapidly throughout much of Eurasia, "says Chris Stringer, a researcher at the National Museum of History in London (United Kingdom) and co-author of the study.
On the other hand, Arturo Morales-Muñiz, scientist of the Autonomous University of Madrid, suggests that the evidences of the Bajondillo Cave will contribute to attract the attention on the role that the Strait of Gibraltar has played as a potential dispersion route for modern humans who left Africa.