October 26, 2011

Neanderthals 22,000 years ago?

Just a quick note by the moment: Millán Mozota surprised us all[es] yesterday with a quite curious Neanderthal conceptual bomb: our extinct cousins may have survived in the valley of Liébana (Cantabria, Spain) for much longer than generally assumed.

The paper is:

No bones have been found but the Mousterian sequence and C14 dating is so robust that it is hard to question. Mousterian in this part of the World has only been associated with Neanderthals and never with our species and now there is are repeated C14 dates for the 23,500-19,300 window with Mousterian. From El Neandertal tonto...:

This basically leaves little doubt about people using Mousterian living so late in time, right at the Last Glacial Maximum and contemporary with local Gravettian (c. 20,700 BP, uncalibrated, at Morín) and Solutrean cultures (c. 19,000 BP at Las Caldas), almost shoulder with shoulder geographically. However there seems to be less clear Mousterian presence in Aurignacian times (ref. "first dates" for the Cantabrian Strip: 33-28,000 BP).

The unexpectedly late Mousterian tools

Another issue the authors and Millán arise are an apparent lower knowledge of their resources, exploiting more scattered niches maybe, too complex for me to discuss with it without having read the paper first.

Finally they seem interested in revisiting and reviewing a number of old "out of place" datings of Mousterian (and Acheulean?) sites that had been discarded as errors maybe a bit too hastily. 

Note (update): the calibration curve makes the real dates to be somewhat older than 19-23 Ka, something like 22-27 real Ka ago for the highlighted bracket of solidly dated ultra-late Mousterian.

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Micro RNA brings some to claim Neanderthals had some mental affinity to chimpanzees

A not too related news I decided to stuck here just because it's also on Neanderthals.

On first sight it looks a wild claim that reminds me of the microcephalin fiasco some years ago but I can't really argue against it with my knowledge of this kind of epigenetic material. Luckily it is open access so you can judge yourself:

With that title I probably just skipped over it when reading the email alerts but thankfully, Neanderthalerin, always hyper-alert to any kind of Neanderthal or otherwise hominin news, did notice[cat]


  1. "but thankfully, Neanderthalerin, always hyper-alert to any kind of Neanderthal or otherwise hominin news"

    LOL I only look at 3-4 sources per day :)

    I put 24.000 years BP in my blog because I understood (reading Millán's post) the dates of the table need to be calibrated (or are they calibrated already?) with a program called OxCal, and this basically adds 2.000 years more to all dates, but I'm not 100% sure, do you know?

  2. Actually it's more complicated. I use this curve as visual tool and I get that the old date (for the unusual period: 23.5 KaBP) calibrates as 26 or 27 Ka ago (cal), while the newest solid date and (19.3 Ka BP) becomes c. 22-23 Ka.

    So you are right essentially... but check the calibration curve because it's not just "2000 years more", it depends (in these cases could be almost 4,000 years more in fact).

    As for your blog, you do post frequently and cover well a wide range of news in your specialization, so the comment is, I think, well deserved.

  3. Re the micro RNAs: We are decades away from understanding the ramifications of neural gene expression in our species, much less an extinct species.

    Of course, according to cladistics, any Homo extant during the lifetime of our species would be equally distant from Pan. To assert that micro RNA expression in a Homo sp would be more similar to Pan than another Homo sp ... seems highly unlikely.

    Also note that Svante Pääbo himself considers the published Neanderthal genome to be of rather low (preliminary) quality, probably not accurate enough to be making this sort of comparison.

  4. Thanks again Maju. That's the sort of post that keeps bringing me back, in spite of our disagreements.

  5. Man, that Baena et al. paper is long-winded. What I found most interesting is that the final Mousterian in Cantabria (while lasting much longer) has similarities to the final Mousterian around Uluzzian sites. The sites become more disorganized, tools sloppier and of local origin, only, indication of sporadic usage and what generally looks like a population on the run - in stark contrast to typical Neanderthal behavior.

    In the microRNA paper, did they even compare to Neanderthal DNA? I only read it quickly, but to me it looked like their conclusion was solely based on assumed timing of the mutations.

  6. The micro-RNA paper is very arid and I eventually renounced to find out myself. I was waiting for Hawks or so to say something but he's silent.

    However Neanderthalerin seems to have found that what the authors claim is that out of five mutations between chimps and us in this aspect, the Neanderthals shared all but one with us (what is within the range of expectations considering the general evolutive timeline).

    The authors argue, it seems, that previous papers have "found" (??) a correlation between miRNA and intelligence but, sincerely, it seems a very weak link. I mostly mentioned to see if someone could find out something more and just for the sake of it (it's news, ain't it?)

  7. As for the Liébana findings, "on the run" for thousands of years? Sure, the authors do seem to acknowledge a less permanent or consistent exploitation of the territory, what seems to imply larger areas of exploitation which they could not know so well.

    I asked if these areas were of a hundred or a thousand kilometers and the reply, somewhat tentative, was that a hundred, which is not too much and does not seem to explain anything to me.

    Hard to say but I would not expect a population to be "on the run" for thousands of years in the same place and not to be able to understand their refuge almost perfectly.


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