Humans and Neanderthals ‘co-existed in Europe for far longer than thought’

Cave objects suggest modern humans and Neanderthals shared continent for several thousand years

Stone artefacts found at Bacho Kiro cave. Photograph: Tsenka Tsanova/SWNS

Modern humans were present in Europe at least 46,000 years ago, according to new research on objects found in Bulgaria, meaning they overlapped with Neanderthals for far longer than previously thought.

Researchers say remains and tools found at a cave called Bacho Kiro reveal that modern humans and Neanderthals were present at the same time in Europe for several thousand years, giving them ample time for biological and cultural interaction.

“Our work in Bacho Kiro shows there is a time overlap of maybe 8,000 years between the arrival of the first wave of modern humans in eastern Europe and the final extinction of Neanderthals in the far west of Europe,” said Prof Jean-Jacques Hublin, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, a co-author of the research, adding that that was far longer than previously thought. Some scholars have suggested a period of not more than 3,000 years.

Neanderthals were roaming Europe until about 40,000 years ago. “It gives a lot of time for these groups to interact biologically and also culturally and behaviourally,” Hublin added.

Writing in studies published in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution, Hublin and colleagues report how they excavated Bacho Kiro, a site that has been studied several times over the past decades. Previous excavations revealed human remains and tools of a very specific type known as “initial upper palaeolithic”. Hublin said such stone and bone tools showed features both of tools known to have been used by Neanderthals and toolkits used by later modern humans, with much debate over which hominin was making them.

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