Cave Find 'Literally Rewrites All Our Books of History'

Site repeatedly changed hands between Neanderthals, Homo sapiens
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2022 5:09 AM CST
Updated Feb 13, 2022 1:45 PM CST
'Neanderthal Pompeii' Upends Theories on Replacement by Humans
This photo provided by Ludovic Slimak shows scientists working at the entrance of the Mandrin cave, near Montelimar, southern France.   (Ludovic Slimak via AP)

A cave in southern France that one researcher calls a Neanderthal Pompeii has upended theories about how our species replaced the earlier hominid species in Europe tens of thousands of years ago. Scientists had thought Homo sapiens arrived in western Europe around 40,000 and quickly wiped out the Neanderthals, but tools and a child's tooth found in the Grotte Mandrin suggest humans were present in the area 54,000 years ago, the BBC reports. The cave—which would have been a prime piece of prehistoric real estate—appears to have changed hands between Neanderthals and modern humans multiple times over thousands of years, with one group of Homo sapiens moving in just a year after Neanderthals left, reports the New York Times.

After a relatively brief period, the Homo sapiens were replaced by Neanderthals for thousands of years before modern humans returned, researchers say. "This literally rewrites all our books of history," says anthropologist Ludovic Slimak, lead author of a study published in Science Advances. Researchers have been excavating the Rhone Valley cave for more than 30 years. They have found hundreds of thousands of artifacts, including what appear to be arrowheads made by Homo sapiens. "Mandrin is like a kind of neanderthalian Pompeii, without catastrophic events, but with continuous filling of sands in the cave deposited progressively by a strong wind," Slimak says, per the Guardian.

Anthropologist Chris Stinger at London's Natural History Museum tells the BBC that the find challenges the view that there was a rapid takeover by humans. "Sometimes Neanderthals had the advantage, sometimes modern humans had the advantage, so it was more finely balanced," he says. Stringer says the apparent long period of coexistence fits in with the 2010 discovery that Homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals and many humans still have some Neanderthal DNA. "We don't know if it was peaceful exchanges of partners. It might have been grabbing, you know, a female from another group," he says. "It might have been even adopting abandoned or lost Neanderthal babies." (This Neanderthal carving could be the world's oldest piece of art.)

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