New Study Shows Neanderthals Survived 3,000 Years Longer Than Previously Believed In Spain

A new study has confirmed that Neanderthals survived for 3,000 years longer than had previously been believed and continued to thrive in Spain, in a region then known as Southern Iberia, despite having died off in other areas. The latest study delves deeply into the lives of Neanderthals and was conducted by an international team of researchers from Austria, Catalonia, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Italy.

While scientists now know that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals and absorbed different facets of their culture, new research shows that rather than Neanderthals simply dying out quickly when modern humans took center stage, the evolution of modern humans and the extinction of Neanderthals was a “stop-and-go, punctuated, geographically uneven history,” according to Elsevier.

The new international study conducted on Neanderthals involved more than 10 years of dedicated work and scientists excavated three brand new locations in the south of Spain as evidence from this region has shown beyond a doubt that Neanderthals had been living here up until approximately 37,000 years ago.

The University of Barcelona’s Dr. João Zilhão explained that these sites in Spain showed an abundance of Neanderthal artifacts demonstrating their habitation in this region longer than anywhere else in Western Europe.

“Technology from the Middle Paleolithic in Europe is exclusively associated with the Neanderthals. In three new excavation sites, we found Neanderthal artifacts dated to thousands of years later than anywhere else in Western Europe. Even in the adjacent regions of northern Spain and southern France the latest Neanderthal sites are all significantly older.”

Three new sites in Southern Spain show evidence of Neanderthal habitation 3,000 years after they died off elsewhere.
Three new sites in Southern Spain show evidence of Neanderthal habitation 3,000 years after they died off elsewhere. [Image by Heinz Ducklau/AP Images]

The Middle Paleolithic era lasted from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago and was a time of major upheaval and change when our modern human ancestors slowly began migrating out of Africa to various Eurasian locations where they would have mingled with other native populations, including Neanderthals.

This process would not have been one in which modern humans dominated and decimated other populations, quickly taking over. Instead, different geographical locations showed quite different outcomes in their timelines when it came to the existence and extinction of these native populations. According to Dr. João Zilhão, this rather uneven timeline would most likely have been the rule when it came to these different populations of people.

“We believe that the stop-and-go, punctuated, uneven mechanism we propose must have been the rule in human evolution, which helps explaining why Paleolithic material culture tends to form patterns of geographically extensive similarity while Paleolithic genomes tend to show complex ancestry patchworks.”

It is Zilhão’s belief that one of the best ways to better understand the evolution of Neanderthals and modern humans is to look at fresh, new sites rather than continue to research old ones. Despite the expense and time that must be dedicated to these new locations, he believes that this approach will ultimately allow scientists to assemble a bigger picture when it comes to the evolution of humans.

“There is still a lot we do not know about human evolution and, especially, about the Neanderthals. Our textbook ideas about Neanderthals and modern humans have been mostly derived from finds in France, Germany and Central Europe, but during the Ice Ages these were peripheral areas: probably as much as half of the Paleolithic people who ever lived in Europe were Iberians. Ongoing research has begun to bear fruit, and I have no doubt that there is more to come.”

The new study on the existence of Neanderthals 3,000 years later than previously thought in Spain can be read in Volume 3, Issue 11 edition of Heliyon.

[Featured Image by Martin Meissner/AP Images]