Earlier dates for Neandertal extinction cause a fuss

Revised age suggests the hominids disappeared 40,000 years ago in Europe

2:10pm, August 20, 2014

EARLY DEPARTURE  European Neandertals, including one represented by this lower jaw excavated in southern Spain, survived no later than about 40,000 years ago, new radiocarbon dates suggest.

Neandertals died out in Western Europe earlier than many scientists thought, between about 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, after interbreeding with modern humans and picking up toolmaking pointers from them for a few thousand years, a new study suggests.

These new findings join a long-standing debate about the fate of the Neandertals that shows no signs of dimming.

Previous reports that some Neandertals survived in Southwestern Europe until more recently, about 30,000 years ago, hinged on underestimates of the age of carbon from ancient bones and other organic material, say archaeologist Tom Higham of the University of Oxford and his colleagues. Improved radiocarbon dating methods now indicate that Neandertals disappeared at different times in different regions of Western Europe before finally going extinct about 40,000 years ago, the scientists report in the Aug. 21 Nature.

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