Oxford University research, led by Prof Tom Higham, has
shed new light on when the last Neanderthals died out, and
strongly suggests they were not rapidly replaced by modern
Prof Higham is the deputy director of the Oxford Radiocarbon
Accelerator Unit, at Oxford University, England, and is a
University of Otago graduate in archaeology.
The researchers undertook high-precision dating of materials
from 40 archaeological sites, from Russia to Spain.
This revealed Neanderthals disappeared from Europe about
40,000 years ago, the researchers said.
Rather than a rapid replacement of European Neanderthals by
anatomically modern humans, the study, published in Nature,
supported a ''more complex picture'', and a ''biological and
cultural mosaic that lasted for several thousand years''.
Neanderthals and modern humans were both living in Europe for
between 2600 and 5400 years, the research suggested.
For the first time, researchers had constructed a ''robust
timeline'' showing when the last Neanderthals died out,
information which had eluded scientists previously, Prof
Higham said in an interview. Evidence suggested Neanderthals
disappeared at different times across Europe rather than
being rapidly replaced by modern humans.
The results had involved a ''huge amount of work'', and the
research team obtained new radiocarbon dates for about 200
samples of bone, charcoal and shell.
Prof Higham, who has a BA (Hons) and an MA in archaeology
from Otago University, said that his fascination with
Neanderthals began within the first few weeks of his Otago
One of the ''big questions'' in this field had been ''what
happened when modern humans and Neanderthals met'', and a
''reliable chronology'' was needed to understand this.
The researchers had now shown that modern people in Europe
were sharing the continent with Neanderthals for ''much
longer than previously thought'', with sufficient time for
cultural influence and interbreeding.
Other recent studies suggested modern human and Neanderthal
groups interbred outside Africa, with at least 1.5% of the
DNA of modern non-African human populations originating from
Neanderthals, researchers said. firstname.lastname@example.org