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A scientific team from the University of Cologne (Germany), the National University of Distance Education (UNED), the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and the Geological and Mining Institute (IGME) have just published in the journal Quaternary Research a work on the latest dating and geoarchaeological studies carried out at the Abrigo del Molino site (Segovia).
The results show the most recent Neanderthal occupations in the center of the peninsula, somewhat more recent even than the dates that determine the end of the Neanderthals in the north of the peninsula.
"This means that when the Neanderthals were still around the Central System, it is likely that they had already disappeared from the Cantabrian strip, showing a retreat from north to south," explains David Álvarez Alonso, researcher at the UCM and co-author of the work. .
The data is revealing, since there is controversy among the scientific community around the time of the disappearance of Neanderthals (in the Middle Palaeolithic, with the so-called Mousterian culture) and the arrival of the first sapiens (in the Upper Paleolithic, with the Aurignacian culture).
Since the 1990s, the debate has focused on the north of the peninsula where, thanks to carbon 14 dating, it was observed that there were very old Aurignacian levels (attributed to sapiens), which in some cases overlapped chronologically with the Mousterian levels (attributed to Neanderthals).
"This debate is joined by the possibility of whether the Neanderthals and the Sapiens really coincided in the geographical space, since it is known that they did so in the same time frame," explains the researcher, who recalls that for many years it has been been speculating with this possibility.
“It is known that Sapiens and Neanderthals coincided in the Middle East, and today thanks to DNA we know that there was genetic exchange, but that this exchange occurred before the arrival of the Sapiens to the Iberian Peninsula. For that reason, the debate on the coexistence of sapiens and Neanderthals in the peninsula has been and is very controversial ”, he emphasizes.
[Tweet "The Neanderthals were gradually disappearing from the peninsula from north to south"]
Coexistence between species
The last northern Neanderthals disappeared about 45,000 years ago, according to existing chronologies for the end of the Museteriense. It is also known that there is an early Aurignacian in the Cantabrian around 42-40,000 years. "But there are also some very controversial levels, scarce and attributed to a transitional period called Chatelperroniense, whose author seems to have been the Neanderthals, with dates in the Cantabrian between approximately 45 and 40,000 years," says Álvarez Alonso.
A few years ago, the magazine Nature published a work that suggested that the Neanderthals of western Europe (Spain, France) disappeared slightly before the arrival of the first sapiens, a model of advancement of some and retreat of others without actually coinciding at the same time in the same places, thus denying the contact between species in the peninsula.
Instead, a recent article published last month in Plos One, points out that there could be coexistence between species from the radiocarbon analysis of several Mousterian, Chatelperronian and Aurignacian Cantabrian deposits.
“Clearly, the Neanderthals were gradually disappearing from the peninsula from north to south. This disappearance occurred in the north between approximately 45,000 and 42,000 years ago. The arrival of the sapiens seems to have been almost immediate, but they stayed in the north, moving to the interior and south of the Iberian Peninsula several thousand years after their arrival on the peninsula ”, the co-author states.
In this way, the sapiens took much longer to reach the interior and south of the peninsula "So it seems that between the last Neanderthals in the interior and the first sapiens there were thousands of years of population void," he adds.
Abrigo del Molino: refuge for Neanderthals in Segovia
The El Abrigo del Molino site It was discovered in 2012 and since 2013 it is being excavated by a team led by David Álvarez Alonso, María de Andrés Herrero and Andrés Díez Herrero.
It has three levels with Mousterian occupation, carried out by Neanderthal groups who used it as a refuge, recurrently, but occasionally. As Álvarez Alonso explains, the state of conservation is exceptional and has made it possible to obtain geochronological dating by two different methods: Carbon 14-AMS and OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminiscence).
In 2014, a team from the University of Cologne and the Neanderthal Museum began collaborating with these researchers. The dating carried out by this institution has made it possible to narrow down the chronology of the different Neanderthal human occupations of the Mill Shelter and to set a chronological range for the last human occupations between 45,000 and 41,000 years old.
Thus, the Shelter of the Mill contains one of the latest chronological evidences for the Mousterian of the Iberian Peninsula, that is, for the last Neanderthals of western Europe.
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