January 17, 2006

Neandertals may have arrived in Europe by sea

Neanderthal man floated into Europe, say Spanish researchers (excerpt)

Spanish investigators believe they may have found proof that neanderthal man reached Europe from Africa not just via the Middle East but by sailing, swimming or floating across the Strait of Gibraltar.

Prehistoric remains of hunter-gatherer communities found at a site known as La Cabililla de Benzú, in the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta, are remarkably similar to those found in southern Spain, investigators said. Stone tools at the site correspond to the middle palaeolithic period, when neanderthal man emerged, and resemble those found across Spain.

"This could break the paradigm of most investigators, who have refused to believe in any contact in the palaeolithic era between southern Europe and northern Africa," investigator José Ramos explained in the University of Cadiz's research journal.

Although the scientists have not yet reached definite conclusions, they say the evidence that neanderthal man mastered some primitive techniques for crossing the sea into Europe from the coast near Ceuta looks promising.


Fauna and flora evidence from the same era suggested both sides of the Mediterranean were by no means isolated. A neanderthal ability to travel across small stretches of sea would help explain why the Iberian peninsula has older examples of human remains than, say, France.

Mr Ramos said: "If the only way of getting to Europe was via the Middle East then, theoretically, they should have got to France before reaching Spain."

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