May 10, 2011

Neandertals just got older (redating of Mezmaiskaya cave)

Nicholas Wade explains:
Reviewing other Neanderthal dates ascertained with the new ultrafiltration method, Dr. Higham sees an emerging pattern that no European Neanderthal site can reliably be dated to less than 39,000 years ago. “It’s only with reliable techniques that we can interpret the archaeological past,” he said.

He is re-dating Neanderthal sites across Europe and so far sees no evidence for any extensive overlap between Neanderthals and modern humans. “There was a degree of contemporaneity, but it may not have been very long,” he said. A short period of contact would point to the extinction of the Neanderthals at the hands of modern humans.

“It’s very unlikely for Neanderthals to go extinct without some agency from modern humans,” Dr. Higham said.
That "agency" could be, of course that they killed 'em all or bred with them all, absorbing their genes, which would have been a drop in the much larger expanding sapiens population. The latter possibility is difficult to explain given that Europeans are not more Neandertal-like genomically than east Eurasians, so they do not seem to have acquired a dose of Neandertal genes all their own.

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018938108

Revised age of late Neanderthal occupation and the end of the Middle Paleolithic in the northern Caucasus

Ron Pinhasi et al.

Advances in direct radiocarbon dating of Neanderthal and anatomically modern human (AMH) fossils and the development of archaeostratigraphic chronologies now allow refined regional models for Neanderthal–AMH coexistence. In addition, they allow us to explore the issue of late Neanderthal survival in regions of Western Eurasia located within early routes of AMH expansion such as the Caucasus. Here we report the direct radiocarbon (14C) dating of a late Neanderthal specimen from a Late Middle Paleolithic (LMP) layer in Mezmaiskaya Cave, northern Caucasus. Additionally, we provide a more accurate chronology for the timing of Neanderthal extinction in the region through a robust series of 16 ultrafiltered bone collagen radiocarbon dates from LMP layers and using Bayesian modeling to produce a boundary probability distribution function corresponding to the end of the LMP at Mezmaiskaya. The direct date of the fossil (39,700 ± 1,100 14C BP) is in good agreement with the probability distribution function, indicating at a high level of probability that Neanderthals did not survive at Mezmaiskaya Cave after 39 ka cal BP ("calendrical" age in kiloannum before present, based on IntCal09 calibration curve). This challenges previous claims for late Neanderthal survival in the northern Caucasus. We see striking and largely synchronous chronometric similarities between the Bayesian age modeling for the end of the LMP at Mezmaiskaya and chronometric data from Ortvale Klde for the end of the LMP in the southern Caucasus. Our results confirm the lack of reliably dated Neanderthal fossils younger than ∼40 ka cal BP in any other region of Western Eurasia, including the Caucasus.

Link

19 comments:

eurologist said...

Our results confirm the lack of reliably dated Neanderthal fossils younger than ∼40 ka cal BP in any other region of Western Eurasia, including the Caucasus.

That at first seems like a bold claim, but their Fig. 3 is pretty convincing.

So, did the "Campanian ignimbrite volcanic super-eruption" help AMHs make quick ground? I don't really believe in coincidences, and the timing is spot on...

terryt said...

Wouldn't we expect Neanderthals in the caucasus to be amoung the earliest to dissappear?

Onur said...

According to the findings of this paper, modern humans exterminated Neanderthals in a few hundred years in every region they encountered them. If further confirmed, this strongly implies that modern humans were far superior to Neanderthals in intelligence and technology. With such superiority to Neanderthals, modern humans would probably avoid mixing with Neanderthals (maybe some modern human males might have mixed with Neanderthal females, but they would probably disown their offspring from Neanderthals regarding them as freaks). This doesn't chime well with the recent finding that Neanderthals might have contributed genes to non-Africans. But maybe when they contributed genes to Out-of-Africa modern humans, modern humans weren't yet as advanced as they would later be (behavioral modernity might have emerged only about 50,000 years ago).

eurologist said...

This doesn't chime well with the recent finding that Neanderthals might have contributed genes to non-Africans.

There are 90,000 years between the Green Sahara onset and first ooA -- and the demise of Neanderthals 40,000 years ago.

Plenty of time to learn new tricks (perhaps even dog domestication).

eurologist said...

I agree - again, we come to this magical time ~45,000 years ago when everything changed, on a global scale.

Onur said...

There are 90,000 years between the Green Sahara onset and first ooA -- and the demise of Neanderthals 40,000 years ago.

Plenty of time to learn new tricks (perhaps even dog domestication).

I agree - again, we come to this magical time ~45,000 years ago when everything changed, on a global scale.


Yes, that's why I wrote: "But maybe when they contributed genes to Out-of-Africa modern humans, modern humans weren't yet as advanced as they would later be (behavioral modernity might have emerged only about 50,000 years ago)."

Achaean said...

QUOTE
If further confirmed, this strongly implies that modern humans were far superior to Neanderthals in intelligence and technology.
UNQUOTE

Not at all. What it does imply, is:

...That the invading modern humans, were more NUMEROUS than the Neanderthals, i.e. that they enjoyed a numerical advantage, a usually decisive advantage in military encounters between non-professional military forces.

In addition, it MAY further imply that:

a. The invading modern humans possessed superior military TECHNOLOGY to that of the Neanderthals.

b. The invading modern humans possessed superior military organization to that of the Neanderthals.

c. The invading modern humans possessed superior military skills/experience to that of the Neanderthals.

The above points are NOT evidence of superior intelligence of modern humans compared to the Neanderthals, per se.

Like they say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Millán Mozota said...

It feels necessary to segregate:

1- Empirical scientific result. Example: a new datation of a Neanderthal.
2- Metodological innovation. Example: Ultrafiltration incorporated to C14 method.
3- Plausible consecuences of empirical scientific results. Example: a HUGE revision seems necesary now, both of ALL industries (ofc EUP included) and the WHOLE human fossil record (Neanderthal and AMH) for OIS3.
4 - Narcisists fantasies from researchers with a worring need of media attention (example: absurdly hiperboled conclusions, incredibly narrowed to be relevant only to the OIS3-Neanderthals.

In other words: If ALL bone-based C14 datations of some 10-15k chronological span are wrong, then we need to talk about ALL datations there: All early AMH from Eurasia, all Protoaurignacian, and all Aurignacian datations are WRONG too. Following others&Higham line of argumentation, probably even a big portion of Gravetian datations should be quarantined too.

Onur said...

Achaean, as a rule, in intra-Old World invasions, all things being equal or similar, invaders are overwhelmed numerically by natives. If invading modern humans numerically overwhelmed Neanderthals, this can only mean that modern humans were much superior to Neanderthals in technology. Such a big and constant technological difference between these two separate Homo clades, especially in Paleolithic times, can only be explained with a significant intellectual difference. And the intellectual difference between modern humans and Neanderthals is evident from archaeology beginning from about 50,000 years ago (putative emergence of behavioral modernity in modern humans), thus just before the invasion of Neanderthal territories, and not just in practical technologies but also in exclusively modern human practices like art.

John said...

I am a rank amateur so take what I say with at least one grain of salt.

1. It seems very likely that when the much larger population of homo sapiens met the smaller isolated population of homo neanderthals they as has happened over and over in recorded history carried diseases that the local population had no immunity to. For example what happened to First Americans when Europeans arrived.

2. A question is the genetic composition of Palaeolithic European homo sapiens who interacted with the homo neanderthals the same as the Neolithic homo sapiens who replaced them? I have read that most of the hunter gather populations of Europe were almost entirely replaced by farmers migrating from Eurasia.

Onur said...

In other words: If ALL bone-based C14 datations of some 10-15k chronological span are wrong, then we need to talk about ALL datations there: All early AMH from Eurasia, all Protoaurignacian, and all Aurignacian datations are WRONG too. Following others&Higham line of argumentation, probably even a big portion of Gravetian datations should be quarantined too.

Millan, I don't think the authors of the paper are stupid enough to neglect these issues. They should have taken into consideration the dating of the fossils and artifacts of modern humans and non-Caucasian Neanderthals too before arriving their conclusions (they mention the dating of modern humans and non-Caucasian Neanderthals even in the abstract).

But, of course, it is best to be cautious before the details of the paper become clear.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

John Hawks is rightly skeptical on the basis of the fact that we have more than skeletons from the post-40kya era. We also have a wealth of Mousterian tool kits that are strongly associated with Neanderthals in earlier eras.

terryt said...

"If ALL bone-based C14 datations of some 10-15k chronological span are wrong, then we need to talk about ALL datations there: All early AMH from Eurasia, all Protoaurignacian, and all Aurignacian datations are WRONG too".

Good point.

eurologist said...

Well, a lot of the AMH dates have already been revised using the collagen filtration method, some have been revised using the Campanian eruption layer.

I agree, though, that all these new date findings should be compared in the context of dates from sites without fossil evidence.

Onur said...

It seems very likely that when the much larger population of homo sapiens met the smaller isolated population of homo neanderthals they as has happened over and over in recorded history carried diseases that the local population had no immunity to. For example what happened to First Americans when Europeans arrived.

But modern humans and Neanderthals both lived in the Old World, so Neanderthals and modern humans should already have been immune to the diseases of each other before the modern human invasion of Neanderthal territories. This immunity should have developed not through direct interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals but through land animals that had been living between the modern human and Neanderthal territories. Also, if your theory was true, under equal or similar circumstances, modern humans should have been affected by Neanderthal diseases as much as Neanderthals would have been affected by modern human diseases. So in either case modern humans should have been technologically much superior to Neanderthals.

Amerindians and other New World people, in contrast, had been completely isolated from Old World people and land animals for over a ten thousand years prior to the invasion of their territories by Old World people, so Old World people and New World people hadn't had a chance to develop immunity to the diseases of each other prior to the invasion of the New World by Old World people. The invading Old World people (Europeans to be specific) were technologically much superior to New World people thus had much higher population sizes, and this gave them advantage in reducing the affects of the casualties arising from their nonimmunity to New World diseases.

Millán Mozota said...

>>>>Well, a lot of the AMH dates have already been revised using the collagen filtration method, some have been revised using the Campanian eruption layer.

A lot??
XDDDDD

Do you ever know how many AMH remains -older than 30.000 BP c14 scale- do exist for Europe? I dont really you can make "a lot" of it. And they dont even have a solid archaeological context so is efortless.
What i see here is fantastic speculations made of thin air and some plain fallacies about OIS fossil and archaeological record. No scientific facts worth it, besides a new, singular datation, with -may be- is closer to the real age of a singular human fossil.

Millán Mozota said...

>>>Millan, I don't think the authors of the paper are stupid enough to neglect these issues.

I dont think is a problem of intelligence.

This is a case of resistance based on inertias, and negation of (scores) of facts about archaeological research.
That resistance, inertia and negation come from the representatives of a dead&duried scientific paradigm (in a T. Khun's way), related to a model of (less)cognition and (less)capabilities of Neandertal populations.

What lies in the deep of this question is that some researchers now understand (probably too late for the sake of good science) that nothing suports their previous ideas of cognitive-inferior neandertals, been rapidly exterminated by AMH.
Given this fact, he supporters of that <> do need some <> desesperately.

What i find really worring is that a big methodological innovation (Oxfords so called "ultrafiltration" for c14 bone samples) is being used by some researchers as a loaded and aimed weapon, to support that kind of "not really scientific" attitudes.

Onur said...

Millan, why should I trust you on this matter especially as you have a blog specifically devoted to "proving" that Neanderthals were much alike the invading modern humans in technology and intelligence?

John said...

Onur said “But modern humans and Neanderthals both lived in the Old World, so Neanderthals and modern humans should already have been immune to the diseases of each other before the modern human invasion of Neanderthal territories. This immunity should have developed not through direct interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals but through land animals that had been living between the modern human and Neanderthal territories. Also, if your theory was true, under equal or similar circumstances, modern humans should have been affected by Neanderthal diseases as much as Neanderthals would have been affected by modern human diseases. So in either case modern humans should have been technologically much superior to Neanderthals.”

Yes they were both old world animals. However even in modern times, Europeans only successfully moved into Central Africa in the last 150 years with the development of modern medicine. Even today the disease load in the tropics is much higher than in the temperate zones.