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Neandertals survived longer than thought

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An ancient human toolkit dating back 33,000 years – over 6,000 years after man’s prehistoric cousin was presumed to have disappeared – has been unearthed in Russia, according to a new study.

Found near the Arctic Circle, the toolkit might be a relict from one of the last northern refuges of Neandertals, who began to be replaced by more modern humans around 75,000 to 50,000 years ago.

“This site challenges the hypothesis that there was a complete replacement of the Neanderthal societies in all of Europe as early as around 37,000 calendar years,” the authors wrote about their research published in the current issue of Science.

Butchered remains of animals

The absence of human fossils at the site makes it impossible to be sure that the tool-makers were Neandertal, but lead author Ludovic Slimak from Stanford University in California and his French, Russian and Norwegian colleagues said that these tools resemble Middle Paleolithic technology at a time when Upper Paleolithic cultures were settling into the region.

And, the tools are directly comparable to those typically associated with Neandertals at older European sites, they said.

The researchers discovered 313 human artifacts and the remains of several mammals, including mammoths, black bears and woolly rhinos that appear to have been butchered. The remains were unearthed during several excavations at the Byzovaya site in the foothills of the Urals on the right bank of the Pechora River.

Did two human species coexist?

The human artifacts consist of flakes, cores and tools, all with the distinctive characteristics of Middle Paleolithic handiwork. There is no blade or bladelet technology, which has been ascribed to Upper Paleolithic cultures, to be found at the Byzovaya site.

If these tools were, in fact, made by Neandertals, then this finding means that the two human species coexisted over a longer period of time than researchers have believed.

On the other hand, if the tools were struck by modern humans, then the finding implies that younger groups of Homo sapiens preserved older, traditional Middle Paleolithic cultures long after the expansion of modern, Upper Paleolithic societies around the world.

The last Nordic refuge

In addition to radiocarbon dating, the researchers used a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence, which allows them to tell when sediment has been exposed to light for the last time.

While Neanderthal Man occupied Eurasia at lower latitudes, Byzovaya could have been their last Nordic refuge before their extinction, according to the study’s authors. Until now, Neanderthal remains have all come from areas at least 1,000 km south of Byzovaya.

The objects discovered at Byzovaya, which appears to have been occupied just once in 3,000 years, belong to the Mousterian tool tradition used by Neanderthal Man, according to the authors.

Via CosmoMag 

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Written by Nokgiir

May 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm

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