Neanderthals in Europe go back further than expected
WASHINGTON – Neanderthal fossils from a cave in Belgium believed to belong to the last surviving of their kind ever to be found in Europe are thousands of years older than previously thought, according to a new study on Monday.
Earlier radiocarbon dating of the Spy Cave remains has yielded ages as recent as around 24,000 years ago, but new tests push the clock back to 40,600 to 44,200 years.
The research appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was carried out by a team from Belgium, Great Britain and Germany.
Co-lead author Thibaut Deviese from the University of Oxford and the University of Aix-Marseille said he and his colleagues had developed a more robust method for preparing the samples, which was better able to exclude contaminants.
Getting a clear idea of when our closest human relatives passed away is seen as a key first step in better understanding their nature and abilities, as well as why they ultimately passed away while our own ancestors flourished.
The new method still relies on radiocarbon dating, long considered the gold standard of archaeological dating, but refines the way specimens are collected.
All living things take up carbon from the atmosphere and from their food, including the radioactive form of carbon-14, which decays over time.
When it comes to bones, scientists extract the part that is collagen because it is organic.
“What we have done is take it one step further,” said Deviese, as contamination of the burial environment or from the glues used for museum work can spoil the sample.
The team looked for the building blocks of collagen, molecules called amino acids, and in particular, selected specific single amino acids that they could be sure were part of collagen.
The authors also dated Neanderthal specimens from two other Belgian sites, Fonds-de-Foret and Engis, finding comparable ages.
“The dating of all these Belgian specimens was very exciting as they played a major role in understanding and defining Neanderthals,” said lead co-author Gregory Abrams of the Scladina Cave Archaeological Center in Belgium. . “Almost two centuries after the discovery of Engis’ Neanderthal child, we were able to provide a reliable age.”
Some uses of stone tools have been attributed to Neanderthals and have been interpreted as a sign of their cognitive evolution, Deviese said.
Agencies via Xinhua