Remains found inside a cave in central Bulgaria suggest that modern humans had an extensive contact phase with Neanderthals in Europe and could provide more clues to why the Neanderthals went extinct.
It’s long been known that modern humans and Neanderthals in Europe and in Asia had contact with one another before Neanderthals died out, but there is much debate among scientists about how long modern humans overlapped with Neanderthals and the implications of the overlap.
The study on remains found at Bacho Kiro, near Dryanovo, by two teams of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, determined the ages of artefacts found in the cave. Their research suggests modern humans were there at least as early as 45,000 years ago, possibly even earlier.
At the time Europe was populated by Neanderthals, a distinct type of human that vanished after modern humans – homo sapiens – appeared on the scene.
Studies on the Bacho Kiro remains show they are thousands of years older than evidence from remains found in a cave in Romania and older than other evidence found in Britain and Italy.
Those finds led scientists to believe that Neanderthals died out relatively soon after the arrival of modern humans.
The new data shows, however, that the two species might have lived together for thousands of years.
The recent data is spelled out in two new scientific papers published in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Among the wealth of artefacts yielded through excavations at Bacho Kiro were a tooth and four bone fragments identified as broadly human. The researchers determined their ages using carbon dating and an analysis of proteins and trace DNA.