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Neandertal debate goes south

Neandertals lived on southwestern Europe's Iberian coast until about 24,000 years ago, sharing the area for several thousand years with modern humans before dying out. This new finding indicates that Neandertal extinction occurred surprisingly gradually, at least near the Mediterranean Sea, says a team led by Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum.

In contrast, many other researchers suspect that Neandertals hit an evolutionary dead end 30,000 years ago, succumbing to competition from Homo sapiens who arrived in western Europe 32,000 years ago.

Between 1999 and 2005, Finlayson and his colleagues excavated Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar, located at Spain's southern tip. Radiocarbon dates for pieces of burned wood retrieved among Neandertal stone tools indicate that these human ancestors used part of the cave from 32,000 to 24,000 years ago, the investigators report in a paper published online Sept. 6 and in the Oct. 19 Nature.

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