September 28, 2014

43,500-year old Aurignacian north of the Alps

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1412201111

Early modern human settlement of Europe north of the Alps occurred 43,500 years ago in a cold steppe-type environment

Philip R. Nigst et al.

The first settlement of Europe by modern humans is thought to have occurred between 50,000 and 40,000 calendar years ago (cal B.P.). In Europe, modern human remains of this time period are scarce and often are not associated with archaeology or originate from old excavations with no contextual information. Hence, the behavior of the first modern humans in Europe is still unknown. Aurignacian assemblages—demonstrably made by modern humans—are commonly used as proxies for the presence of fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans. The site of Willendorf II (Austria) is well known for its Early Upper Paleolithic horizons, which are among the oldest in Europe. However, their age and attribution to the Aurignacian remain an issue of debate. Here, we show that archaeological horizon 3 (AH 3) consists of faunal remains and Early Aurignacian lithic artifacts. By using stratigraphic, paleoenvironmental, and chronological data, AH 3 is ascribed to the onset of Greenland Interstadial 11, around 43,500 cal B.P., and thus is older than any other Aurignacian assemblage. Furthermore, the AH 3 assemblage overlaps with the latest directly radiocarbon-dated Neanderthal remains, suggesting that Neanderthal and modern human presence overlapped in Europe for some millennia, possibly at rather close geographical range. Most importantly, for the first time to our knowledge, we have a high-resolution environmental context for an Early Aurignacian site in Central Europe, demonstrating an early appearance of behaviorally modern humans in a medium-cold steppe-type environment with some boreal trees along valleys around 43,500 cal B.P.



eurologist said...

Was wondering when you would show this.

~43,000 has been the recent consensus - so no surprise, here.

andrew said...

IIRC, this pre-date the string of volcanic mega-erruptions the struck Southern Europe a few thousand years later and may have contributed to the Neanderthal demise.

It is odd that the oldest site is so far into Europe. Presumably, there are lost sites inbetween West Asia and Central Europe as they couldn't have gotten their by teleportation or by flying.

eurologist said...


Kostenki on the Don river has layers associated with culturally modern humans (by tool use) that are covered by the ~40,000 ya Campanian eruption, i.e. they predate it.

Then there is the clearly modern human (as sequenced) Ust-Ishim man ~45,000 from the Irtysh River in western Siberia.

Clearly, at least part of the migration used a northern corridor, in addition to one that passed closely by the Levant, from roughly contemporaneous finds, there.

terryt said...

"Then there is the clearly modern human (as sequenced) Ust-Ishim man ~45,000 from the Irtysh River in western Siberia".

Regarding that subject: does anyone know why it is taking so long for his Y-DNA to be released? Surely it should be part of the full genome evidently already sequenced.

eurologist said...

Since you asked for it, it's available, now. ;)

terryt said...

Yes. Good timing, wasn't it?