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Neanderthals, First Humans did not Meet on Iberian Peninsula

Apr 14, 2014 05:36 PM EDT

An international team of university researchers has concluded that a meeting between a Neanderthal and one of the first humans did not take place on the Iberian Peninsula, according to a release from the University of the Basque Country. This was the determination made after re-dating the remains in three caves located on the route through the Pyrenees of the first beings of our species: L'Arbreda, Labeko Koba, and La Vina.

Up to this point, scientists had used radio-carbon dating to determine the age of prehistoric remains. However, after 40,000 years - the time when humans first arrived in Europe - the portion of carbon left is small and easily contaminated, causing dates to seem more recent.

Since 2005, a new method in which collagen is purified in DNA tests has been used, allowing for retention of the portion of the original organic material and removal of subsequent contamination. This technique has led scientists to the same conclusions at key sites across Europe.

"We can see that the arrival of our species in Europe took place 8,000 years earlier than what had been thought," said University of the Basque Country professor Alvaro Arrizabalaga. "And we can see the earliest datings of our species and the most recent Neanderthal ones, in which, in a specific regional framework, there is no overlapping."

The three caves chosen for the recently published research are located in Girona (L'Arbreda), Gipuzkoa (Labeko Koba), and Asturias (La Viña) - the westernmost and easternmost tips of the Pyrenees, where the flow of populations and animals between the peninsula and continent took place.

The selecting of the remains was very strict allowing only tools made of bones or bones bearing clear traces of human activity. Eighteen remains were dated at Labeko Koba, and the results completely respect the remains' relative position within the Earth's strata - meaning the deeper in the ground the remains were found, the older they were.

"For 25 years, we had been saying that Neanderthals and early humans lived together for 8,000-10,000 years," said Arrizabalaga. "Today, we think that in Europe, there was a gap between one species and the other, and therefore, there was no hybridation, which did in fact take place in areas of the Middle East"

The paper detailing the team's findings has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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