21 June 2009

Who ate all the Neanderthals?

We may have, or rather our early human ancestors may have, according to a study published in Journal of Anthropological Sciences Vol. 87 (2009), pp. 153-185. Summary of journal article
The view that Aurignacian technologies and their associated symbolic manifestations represent the archaeological proxy for the spread of Anatomically Modern Humans into Europe, is supported by few diagnostic human remains, including those from the Aurignacian site of Les Rois in south-western France. Here we reassess the taxonomic attribution of the human remains, their cultural affiliation, and provide five new radiocarbon dates for the site. Patterns of tooth growth along with the morphological and morphometric analysis of the human remains indicate that a juvenile mandible showing cutmarks presents some Neandertal features, whereas another mandible is attributed to Anatomically Modern Humans. Reappraisal of the archaeological sequence demonstrates that human remains derive from two layers dated to 28–30 kyr BP attributed to the Aurignacian, the only cultural tradition detected at the site.  Three possible explanations may account for this unexpected evidence.  The first one is that the Aurignacian was exclusively produced by AMH and that the child mandible from unit A2 represents evidence for consumption or, more likely, symbolic use of a Neandertal child by Aurignacian AMH.  The second possible explanation is that Aurignacian technologies were produced at Les Rois by human groups bearing both AMH and Neandertal features. Human remains from Les Rois would be in this case the first evidence of a biological contact between the two human groups.  The third possibility is that all human remains from Les Rois represent an AMH population with conserved plesiomorphic characters suggesting a larger variation in modern humans from the Upper Palaeolithic.
For easier to understand reporting, see The Guardian and ABC (Australia).

Is it still cannibalism even though the Neanderthals were a different species?

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