Earliest Modern Humans In Europe
A child's tooth found in Grotte Mandrin, Rhône Valley in southern France, is 54,000 years old and pushes our understanding of early modern humans and intermixing between Neanderthals
A new paper in Science Advances1 documents the discoveries from Grotte Mandrin, in the Rhône Valley in southern France. Nine teeth and hundreds of stone tools have been excavated. These teeth represent seven individuals; one of which comes from a child and is taxonomically a Homo sapiens that dates between 56,800 to 51,700 years ago. The eight other teeth belong to Neanderthals. This makes this assemblage the earliest evidence of modern human occupation in Eastern Europe.
Previously, the arrival of modern humans in Europe was thought to be sometime around 43,000 to 45,000 years ago based upon remains found in Italy2 and Bulgaria3. The last known Neanderthal remains were around 40,000 to 42,000 years ago4. Therefore, the remains from Grotte Mandrin push the understanding of modern human presence in Europe by 10,000 years sooner.
Equally curious is that the Homo sapiens remains were found nestled in between Neanderthal remains. It is the first time we have found evidence of alternating Homo sapiens and Neanderthal remains in the same site with rapid rotation. This occurred at least twice the site. With this pattern of occupation of at least two human species at this site and the new dating of modern humans present in Europe at least 10,000 years earlier than we understood before, I think we have more evidence to refute the theory that Neanderthals were rapidly replaced, don’t you?
Based upon the lithic assemblage, the authors were able to identify that the Homo sapiens and Neanderthal stone tools were distinct in style. They did not show any signs of cultural exchanges in knapping or flaking. The Homo sapiens style was Neronian, smaller, and more gracile than the Mousterian culture of the Neanderthal.
Remarkably, however the authors were able to identify that the overlap of the two groups spanned only one year by looking at soot deposits! So it is very likely that they bumped into one another. The reason why I mention that is that the flint used by modern humans came from hundreds of kilometers away, and likely came from indigenous Neanderthals.
What’s left to do is an ancient DNA analysis of these teeth to understand if any admixing happened, like it with the remains from Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria5, where 3% of those modern human DNA came from Neanderthal.
Slimak, L., Zanolli, C., Higham, T., Frouin, M., Schwenninger, J.-L., Arnold, L. J., Demuro, M., Douka, K., Mercier, N., Guérin, G., Valladas, H., Yvorra, P., Giraud, Y., Seguin-Orlando, A., Orlando, L., Lewis, J. E., Muth, X., Camus, H., Vandevelde, S., … Metz, L. (2022). Modern human incursion into Neanderthal territories 54,000 years ago at Mandrin, France. Science Advances, 8(6), eabj9496. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abj9496
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Hajdinjak, M., Mafessoni, F., Skov, L. et al. Initial Upper Palaeolithic humans in Europe had recent Neanderthal ancestry. Nature 592, 253–257 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03335-3