When the Neanderthals Disappeared

Analysis of 40 European archaeological sites suggests a gradual extinction of Neanderthals over thousands of years.  

By Anna Azvolinsky | August 20, 2014

Tom Higham (left) and Katerina Douka selecting samplesUNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, THOMAS HIGHAMNeanderthals overlapped with early modern humans and, based on genetic evidence, even interbred. But the extent of the overlap of the two species both in terms of time and geography is still not fully known, mainly because it has been difficult to accurately date archaeological specimens that go back more than 30,000 years. Using newer techniques, a large-scale dating effort of Neanderthal specimens from Western Europe to Russia now narrows the timing of the extinction of Neanderthals to a span of 2,000 years—between 39,000 and 41,000 years ago. The study is published today (August 20) in Nature.

“The results point to a mosaic pattern of Neanderthal extinction in Europe and provide a shorter time frame for the potential interaction of humans with Neanderthals,” said study author Ron Pinhasi, a professor of archaeology at the University College Dublin in Ireland.

Tom Higham, an archaeological dating expert at the University of Oxford in the U.K., along with Pinhasi and an international team of colleagues, dated almost 200 Neanderthal bone, charcoal, and tool specimens from 40 archaeological sites across Europe. The results reveal that Neanderthals disappeared from the European continent at various times depending on the region. The findings also provide evidence that Neanderthals and early modern humans coexisted for about 2,600 to 5,400 years.

“According to this study, the overlap of humans and Neanderthals has been refined to a few thousand years, which is quite a long time. Archaeologists can get quite blasé about thousands of years because we deal with millennia and we forget that, in human terms, this is several generations and lot can happen,” said William Davies, an archaeologist who studies the dispersal of human species at the University of Southampton in the U.K., and who wrote an accompanying commentary.

Specimens 50,000 years or older do not contain the radiocarbon needed for radiocarbon dating and even samples as young as 30,000 years old can be prone to contamination from present-day carbon molecules. “Contamination is very significant for specimens of this time period,” said Higham. “A 40,000-year-old sample that has 1 percent modern carbon will give you a date that is 7,000 years younger than the specimen’s real age. It’s difficult to overcome removal of contamination from samples, so there has been a real urgent need to improve dating methods.”

To overcome this hurdle, the team had previously developed new sample prep methods that include the filtering of collagen and isolation of a single mammalian-specific amino acid from bone—both of which allow for more accurate radiocarbon dating.

The samples analyzed included Neanderthal bones as well as tools and other artifacts from two European stone tool cultures, the Mousterian and Châtelperronian, associated with Neanderthals.

“Until recently, the main view was for a coexistence [of Neanderthals and early modern humans] in Europe between about 30,000 to 40,000 years, with a few sites suggesting Neanderthal survived even later than 30,000 years,” Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at London’s Natural History Museum, told The Scientist in an e-mail. “This new work seems to have falsified that model with no signal of a Neanderthal presence after 39,000 to 40,000 years ago.”

The team did not confirm the presence of late-surviving Neanderthals in Southern Iberia, which, based on earlier radiocarbon dating, has been thought to be among the last places where Neanderthals lived. Rather than 32,000 years old, the team dated these specimens at more than 50,000 years of age. “We are rewriting the pre-history of this period,” said Higham. “We found no evidence supporting the survival of late Neanderthals in Iberia, and that is a very significant finding.”

The argument that late Neanderthals did not reside in Iberia—which includes Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar—will likely raise a few eyebrows, said Davies. “Many in the field have been arguing that Neanderthals stayed much later in Iberia than in France and other parts of Europe. What this [study] tells us is that we really need to test our ideas carefully,” he continued. “The techniques used here are very good, but they may still not have all the answers.”

The Neanderthals also lived in parts of Eastern Europe, Siberia, and Asia. The timing of their disappearance from these regions still remains to be tested. “We need to date these sites to have a really complete picture,” said Stringer.

Higham and colleagues now have funding for five years to do just that—to expand the geographical scope of their findings from Europe further east, and into Asia.

For Davies, determining the chronology of Neanderthals and modern humans will help researchers better understand how ancient peoples lived—their societal structure, what they ate, and what their mating networks were like. “The improvements and developments of various techniques in the last 25 years is allowing us to ask what it was like to be a Neanderthal or an early modern human,” he said. “These are really exciting times.”

T. Higham et al., “The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance,” Nature, doi:10.1038/nature13621, 2014.

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August 21, 2014


Avatar of: Andries


Posts: 14

August 21, 2014


Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 21, 2014

Re: "...new sample prep methods that include the filtering of collagen and isolation of a single mammalian-specific amino acid from bone—both of which allow for more accurate radiocarbon dating."

My comment: More accurate dating links available information about how nutrient-dependent amino acid substitutions differentiate all cell types of all individuals of all species via conserved molecular mechanisms (examples in: Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model.)

Conserved molecular mechanisms link the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in organized genomes of all species.

Dobzhansky (1964) seemed to be vaguely aware of that fact, which was briefly noted as: "Ingram and others found that hemoglobin S differs from A in the substitution of just a single amino acid, valine in place of glutamic acid in the beta chain of the hemoglobin molecule."

Dobzhansky (1973) linked that fact to cell type differentiation in primates: "...the so-called alpha chains of hemoglobin have identical sequences of amino acids in man and the chimpanzee, but they differ in a single amino acid (out of 141) in the gorilla."

What we now see is more evidence of nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled cell type differentiation that can be placed into the context of what molecular biologists know about ecological variation and ecological adaptations. Thus, we can forget what population geneticists have been telling us during the past 50 years.

For example, see Starvation-Induced Transgenerational Inheritance of Small RNAs in C. elegans. It links nutrient-dependent amino acid substitutions in my model from ecological variation to ecological adaptations manifested in the morphological and behavioral diverstity of species from microbes to man via the physiology of reproduction in nematodes.

Ralf Sommer had this to say about that: "The patterns of synaptic connections perfectly mirror the fundamental differences in the feeding behaviours of P. pacificus and C. elegans" He attested to the fact that ecological variation leads to ecological adaptations manifested in teeth and the nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled predatory behavior of nematodes with teeth.

The problem remains for population geneticists to provide any experimental evidence whatsoever that mutation-initiated natural selection leads to the evolution of biodiversity, which is manifested in nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled cell type differentiation by amino acid substitutions and in the behavior of nematodes and modern human populations.

The question is how long it will be until serious scientists report on the pseudoscientific nonsense of evolutionary theorists that led many people to believe modern human populations evolved from primate ancestors over millions of years, but made the Neandertal to modern human transition in ~ 30,000 years by inbreeding, genocide, or anything else except nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled ecological adaptations, like those manifested in the morphology of pygmies (in ~8000 years).

Avatar of: mightythor


Posts: 88

August 21, 2014

A nice picture is beginning to emerge of succesive waves of hominins migrating out of Africa into the Eurasian continent, beginning at least a million years ago.  And yet, Africa remained the crucible of human evolution, despite the wide distribution of hominins over the highly diverse geography of Eurasia.  The explanation may be trivial: disease.  Hominins weren't the only emigrants from Africa.  Each successive wave of hominins must have carried with it novel pathogens, derived from contact with other primates in Africa (HIV is a modern example), to which resident Eurasian populations had no resistance.  The newcomers weren't necessarily better, but they had nastier bugs.  All kinds of interesting adaptations, arising in resident Eurasian populations, may have been lost this way over the years.  The displacement of Neanderthals by modern humans was only the most recent episode.  This "African advantage" persisted until domesticated animals became the predominant source of novel human pathogens, sometime in the last 10,000 years.

Avatar of: O


Posts: 2

August 21, 2014

If this approch is applied to H.Sapiens Sapiens (to us), it will give more old data for them, as well, and then  the time of H. Sapiens Neanderthalensis and H. Sapiens Sapiens will overlap again.

It is fanny to change the time interval fo Neanderthals, and do not change it for the modern human spevies.


Avatar of: Alexandru


Posts: 101

August 24, 2014

"Why on earth do all these religious bigots insist on clotting up the comments section on a magazine called The Scientist?" (Darran Clements - https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39037/title/Inner-Neanderthal/)


Because the science man does not want to read carefully The Bible and see the best and short description of the EVOLUTION: 1 Corinthians 15.38-51 and Daniel 7.2-4.

When The Scientist will understand the biggest mistake produced by geneticists in vitro fertilization (elimination of Adam mtDNA - the paternal inheritance that assure the wireless communication with God - Paul Hebrew 4.12) they will understand how "every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15.13), because "the seed is the word of God." (Luke 8.11).

Because "the end of modern medicine is coming", the in vitro made people will not be capable to fight with his own immune system against "the coming health crises":




Somebody is patiently waiting for man wise but only "if you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you." (The book of Solomon Proverbs - 1. 22-23)


See to https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31674/title/Opinion--No-Objections-to-Nano-/

Do not forget that the first "Homo sapiens" were women (Eve mtDNA theory) and it is probable that she make sex with Neanderthal and after that she kills him because he was not wise. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazons)

Genocide? (RetiredInBoyntonBeach)

Maybe yes...

The Scientist will demonstrate all legends and religious concept and that means Evolution in the God plan direction!

Avatar of: Alexandru


Posts: 101

August 30, 2014

The biggest genetically difference between Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens is that the second will scientifically understand how it is possible that some species of life disappear during assisted evolution from the sky because NON-CONFORMANCE (Non-CQ) with ecological evolution!


Because the naturally borne Homo sapiens is equipped with maternal mitochondria (inherited from Neanderthal, Eve mtDNA - EQ generator), neocortex (human mind - IQ generator), and paternal mitochondria (inherited from Father, Adam mtDNA - CQ generator - Paul, Hebrew 4.12).

That is so say "man's heart was given to it” (Daniel 7.4) or Wise Quotient (38.2 % EQ + 30.9 % IQ + 30.9 % CQ = Euclid Golden Ratio)





Avatar of: Sciencelover


Posts: 1

September 1, 2014

Its a shame that reputable journals like nature publish such studies. For such old samples radiocarbon dating is not accurate enough to make any conclusions. And the assumptions made about neathertal extinct and interbreeding with modern human are baseless. Redating neathertal bones using ultra-filteration technique and comparing that data with modern human data collected using non-ultrafiltration technique is completely unacceptable. It seems that the researchers involved are trying to make their point by drawing a conclusion first and then trying to prove it. Creditably of such researchers needs to be checked before accepting such studies on their face values. 

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