Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Neanderthals and the modern human colonization of Europe

Abstract

The fate of the Neanderthal populations of Europe and western Asia has gripped the popular and scientific imaginations for the past century. Following at least 200,000 years of successful adaptation to the glacial climates of northwestern Eurasia, they disappeared abruptly between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago, to be replaced by populations all but identical to modern humans. Recent research suggests that the roots of this dramatic population replacement can be traced far back to events on another continent, with the appearance of distinctively modern human remains and artefacts in eastern and southern Africa.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Apparent dispersal routes of the earliest anatomically and behaviourally modern populations across Europe, as reflected in the archaeological data.
Figure 2: Early Aurignacian carved ivory animal and human figures from sites in southern Germany.
Figure 3: Tool forms from classic Aurignacian and proto-Aurignacian sites.

References

  1. Stringer, C. Modern human origins: progress and prospects. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 357, 563–579 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Tattersall, I. in The Speciation of Modern Homo sapiens (ed. Crow, T. J.) 49–59 (British Academy, London, 2002)

    Google Scholar 

  3. Forster, P. Ice ages and the mitochondrial DNA chronology of human dispersals: a review. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 359, 255–264 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Lahr, M. M. & Foley, R. Towards a theory of modern human origins: geography, demography and diversity in modern human evolution. Yb. Physical Anthropol. 41, 127–176 (1998)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Richards, M. et al. Tracing European founder lineages in the near Eastern mitochondrial gene pool. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 67, 1251–1276 (2000)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Underhill, P. et al. The phylogeography of the Y-chromosome binary haplotytes and the origins of modern human populations. Ann. Hum. Genet. 65, 43–62 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. White, T. D. et al. Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature 423, 742–747 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Bar-Yosef, O. in The Geography of Neandertals and Modern Humans in Europe and the Greater Mediterranean (eds Bar-Yosef, O. & Pilbeam, D.) 107–156 (Peabody Museum, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  9. Krings, M. et al. A view of Neanderthal genetic diversity. Nature Genet. 26, 144–146 (2000)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Serre, D. et al. No evidence of Neandertal mtDNA contribution to early modern humans. PLoS Biol. 2, 0313–0317 (2004)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Churchill, S. E. & Smith, F. H. Makers of the early Aurignacian of Europe. Yb. Physical Anthropol. 43, 61–115 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Conard, N., Grootes, P. M. & Smith, F. H. Unexpectedly recent dates for human remains from Vogelherd. Nature 430, 198–201 (2004)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Kozlowski, J. K. & Otte, M. The formation of the Aurignacian in Europe. J. Anthropol. Res. 56, 513–534 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Conard, N. J. & Bolus, M. Radiocarbon dating the appearance of modern humans and timing of cultural innovations in Europe: new results and new challenges. J. Hum. Evol. 44, 331–371 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Mellars, P. A. Archaeology and the population-dispersal hypothesis of modern human origins in Europe. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 337, 225–234 (1992)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Mellars, P. A. in The Peopling of Britain: the Shaping of a Human Landscape (eds Slack, P. & Ward, R.) 39–67 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2001)

    Google Scholar 

  17. White, R. Personal ornaments from the Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure. Athena Rev. 2, 41–46 (2001)

    Google Scholar 

  18. Mellars, P. A. The Neanderthal Legacy: an Archaeological Perspective from Western Europe (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1996)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  19. d'Errico, F. The invisible frontier: a multiple species model for the origin of behavioral modernity. Evol. Anthropol. 12, 188–202 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Donald, M. The Origins of the Modern Mind (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991)

    Google Scholar 

  21. Pinker, S. The Language Instinct (Penguin, London, 1994)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Mithen, S. The Prehistory of the Mind (Thames & Hudson, London, 1996)

    Google Scholar 

  23. Lewis-Williams, D. The Mind in the Cave (Thames & Hudson, London, 2002)

    Google Scholar 

  24. Davies, W. A very model of a modern human industry: new perspectives on the origins and spread of the Aurignacian in Europe. Proc. Prehist. Soc. 67, 195–217 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Smith, F. H., Trinkaus, E., Pettitt, P. B., Karavanić, I. & Paunović, M. Direct radiocarbon dates for Vindija G1 and Velika Pećina Late Pleistocene hominid remains. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 96, 12281–12286 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Trinkaus, E. et al. An early modern human from Peştera cu Oase, Romania. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100, 11231–11236 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Bergman, C. A. & Stringer, C. B. Fifty years after: Egbert, an early Upper Palaeolithic juvenile from Ksar Akil, Lebanon. Paléorient 15, 99–111 (1989)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Mellars, P. A. & Tixier, J. Radiocarbon-accelerator dating of Ksar'Aqil (Lebanon) and the chronology of the Upper Palaeolithic sequence in the Middle East. Antiquity 63, 761–768 (1989)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gambier, D. in The Human Revolution: Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origins of Modern Humans (eds Mellars, P. & Stringer, C.) 194–211 (Edinburgh Univ. Press, Edinburgh, 1989)

    Google Scholar 

  30. Svoboda, J., van der Plicht, J. & Kuželka, V. Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic human fossils from Moravia and Bohemia (Czech Republic): some new 14C dates. Antiquity 76, 957–962 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Sherry, S. T. et al. Mismatch distributions of mtDNA reveal recent human population expansions. Hum. Biol. 66, 761–775 (1994)

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Shackleton, N. J., Fairbanks, R. G., Chiu, T. & Parrenin, F. Absolute calibration of the Greenland time scale: implications for Antarctic time scales and for Δ14C. Quat. Sci. Rev. 23, 1513–1522 (2004)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  33. Aitken, M. J. Science-based Dating in Archaeology (Longmans, London, 1990)

    Google Scholar 

  34. Bronk Ramsey, C., Higham, T., Bowles, A. & Hedges, R. Improvements to the pretreatment of bone at Oxford. Radiocarbon 46, 155–163 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Henri-Gambier, D. Les fossiles de Cro-Magnon (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne): nouvelles données sur leur position chronologique et leur attribution culturelle. Bull. Mém. Soc. Anthropol. Paris 14, 89–112 (2002)

    Google Scholar 

  36. Ohnuma, K. & Bergman, C. A. in The Emergence of Modern Humans (ed. Mellars, P.) 91–138 (Edinburgh Univ. Press, Edinburgh, 1990)

    Google Scholar 

  37. Le Bon, F. L'Aurignacien Entre Mer et Océan. Réflexions sur l'unité des phases anciennes de l'Aurignacien dans le Sud de la France (Société Préhistorique de France, Paris, 2002)

    Google Scholar 

  38. Monigal, K. in More than meets the Eye: Studies on Upper Palaeolithic diversity in the Near East (eds Goring-Morris, A. N. & Belfer-Cohen, A.) 118–133 (Oxbow books, Oxford, 2003)

    Google Scholar 

  39. d'Errico, F., Zilhão, J., Julien, M., Baffier, D. & Pelegrin, J. Neanderthal acculturation in western Europe? A critical review of the evidence and its interpretation. Curr. Anthropol. 39, S1–S44 (1998)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Mellars, P. A. The Neanderthal problem continued. Curr. Anthropol. 40, 341–350 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  41. Hublin, J.-J. in The Geography of Neandertals and Modern Humans in Europe and the Greater Mediterranean (eds Bar-Yosef, O. & Pilbeam, D.) 157–182 (Peabody Museum, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  42. Hublin, J.-J., Spoor, F., Braun, M., Zonneveld, F. & Condemi, S. A late Neanderthal associated with Upper Palaeolithic artefacts. Nature 381, 224–226 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Haesaerts, P. & Teyssandier, N. in The Chronology of the Aurignacian and of the Transitional Complexes (eds Zilhão, J. & d'Errico, F.) 133–151 (Instituto Portugês de Arqueologia, Lisbon, 2003)

    Google Scholar 

  44. Coolidge, F. L. & Wynn, T. A cognitive and neuropsychological perspective on the Chatelperronian. J. Anthropol. Res. 60, 55–73 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Klein, R. G. Archaeology and the evolution of human behavior. Evol. Anthropol. 9, 7–36 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Enard, W. et al. Molecular evolution of FOXP2, a gene involved in speech and language. Nature 418, 869–872 (2002)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Mellars, P. A. in Neandertals and Modern Humans in Western Asia (eds Akazawa, T., Aoki, K. & Bar-Yosef, O.) 493–508 (Plenum, New York, 1998)

    Google Scholar 

  48. Mellars, P. A. in Explaining Social Change: Studies in Honour of Colin Renfrew (eds Cherry, J., Scarre, C. & Shennan, S.) 27–43 (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, 2004)

    Google Scholar 

  49. Finlayson, C. Neanderthals, Modern Humans (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2004)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  50. Henshilwood, C. S. et al. Emergence of modern human behavior: Middle Stone Age engravings from South Africa. Science 295, 1278–1280 (2002)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  51. Henshilwood, C. S., d'Errico, F., Vanhaeren, M., Van Niekerk, K. & Jacobs, Z. Middle Stone Age shell beads from South Africa. Science 304, 404 (2004)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. McBrearty, S. & Brooks, A. The revolution that wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior. J. Hum. Evol. 39, 453–563 (2000)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. Mellars, P. A. in The Speciation of Modern Homo sapiens (ed. Crow, T. J.) 31–47 (British Academy, London, 2002)

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to R. Foley, P. Forster, J.-J. Hublin, J. Kozlowski, C. Stringer and other colleagues for discussions of points raised in the paper, and to D. Kemp for assistance with the illustrations. Research grants were provided by the British Academy and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mellars, P. Neanderthals and the modern human colonization of Europe. Nature 432, 461–465 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03103

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03103

This article is cited by

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing