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Abstract

The timing of Neanderthal disappearance and the extent to which they overlapped with the earliest incoming anatomically modern humans (AMHs) in Eurasia are key questions in palaeoanthropology1,2. Determining the spatiotemporal relationship between the two populations is crucial if we are to understand the processes, timing and reasons leading to the disappearance of Neanderthals and the likelihood of cultural and genetic exchange. Serious technical challenges, however, have hindered reliable dating of the period, as the radiocarbon method reaches its limit at 50,000 years ago3. Here we apply improved accelerator mass spectrometry 14C techniques to construct robust chronologies from 40 key Mousterian and Neanderthal archaeological sites, ranging from Russia to Spain. Bayesian age modelling was used to generate probability distribution functions to determine the latest appearance date. We show that the Mousterian ended by 41,030–39,260 calibrated years bp (at 95.4% probability) across Europe. We also demonstrate that succeeding ‘transitional’ archaeological industries, one of which has been linked with Neanderthals (Châtelperronian)4, end at a similar time. Our data indicate that the disappearance of Neanderthals occurred at different times in different regions. Comparing the data with results obtained from the earliest dated AMH sites in Europe, associated with the Uluzzian technocomplex5, allows us to quantify the temporal overlap between the two human groups. The results reveal a significant overlap of 2,600–5,400 years (at 95.4% probability). This has important implications for models seeking to explain the cultural, technological and biological elements involved in the replacement of Neanderthals by AMHs. A mosaic of populations in Europe during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition suggests that there was ample time for the transmission of cultural and symbolic behaviours, as well as possible genetic exchanges, between the two groups.

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Acknowledgements

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded this work (NE/D014077/1). Additional funding was received from the Leverhulme Trust, through the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, the NRCF (NERC Radiocarbon Facility) programme, Keble College (Oxford) and the European Research Council. We thank our many collaborators and their excavation teams, and all staff at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit for their contribution to this work. Maps at −80 m below current sea level were produced by M. Devès and A. Scheder Black.

Author information

Author notes

    • Roger Jacobi

    Deceased.

Affiliations

  1. Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Research Laboratory for Archaeology & the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK

    • Tom Higham
    • , Katerina Douka
    • , Rachel Wood
    • , Christopher Bronk Ramsey
    • , Fiona Brock
    •  & Anat Marom
  2. Research School for Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra 0200, Australia

    • Rachel Wood
  3. School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology (GAP), Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK

    • Laura Basell
  4. School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, College Park, 4102 Jiménez Hall, University of Maryland, Maryland 20742-4821, USA

    • Marta Camps
  5. Research Team on Prehistory (IT-622-13), IKERBASQUE, University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU), Tomás y Valiente Street, 01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

    • Alvaro Arrizabalaga
    •  & Maria-Jose Iriarte-Chiapusso
  6. Departimento Prehistoria y Arqueología, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Campus Cantoblanco, 28049 Madrid, Spain

    • Javier Baena
  7. Fundación Instituto de Investigación de Prehistoria y Evolución Humana, Plaza del Coso 1, 14900 Lucena, Córdoba, Spain

    • Cecillio Barroso-Ruíz
  8. URS, 525 Vine Street, Suite 1800, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, USA

    • Christopher Bergman
  9. 8 rue des Sapins, 67100 Strasbourg, France

    • Coralie Boitard
  10. Dipartimento di Scienze Fisiche, della Terra e dell’Ambiente, U.R. Preistoria e Antropologia, Università degli Studi di Siena, Via Laterina 8, 53100 Siena, Italy

    • Paolo Boscato
    • , Paolo Gambassini
    • , Adriana Moroni
    •  & Annamaria Ronchitelli
  11. Département de Préhistoire, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 75013 París, France

    • Miguel Caparrós
  12. Abt. Ältere Urgeschichte und Quartärökologie, Universität Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany

    • Nicholas J. Conard
  13. Tübingen Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany

    • Nicholas J. Conard
  14. Service public de Wallonie, DGO4, Service de l′Archéologie, rue des Martyrs, 22, B-6700 Arlon, Belgium

    • Christelle Draily
  15. Laboratoire d’Éco-antropologie et Ethnobiologie, Musée de l’Homme, 17 place du Trocadéro, 75116 Paris, France

    • Alain Froment
  16. Departamento de Prehistoria, Arqueología, Antropología e Historia Antigua, Universidad de La Laguna, Campus de Guajara, 38071 Tenerife, Spain

    • Bertila Galván
  17. Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, Schloss Monrepos, D-56567 Neuwied, Germany

    • Alejandro Garcia-Moreno
    •  & Aritza Villaluenga
  18. Laboratorio di Preistoria ‘B. Bagolini’, Dipartimento di Lettere e Filosofia, Università degli Studi di Trento, via Tommaso Gar, 14 I-38122 Trento, Italy

    • Stefano Grimaldi
  19. Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, rue Vautier 29, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium

    • Paul Haesaerts
  20. Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, 103 Machmer Hall, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA

    • Brigitte Holt
  21. School of Anthropology, Emil W. Haury Building, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0030, USA

    • Arthur Jelinek
  22. Departamento de Prehistoria y Arqueología, UNED. Paseo Senda del Rey 7, 20840, Madrid, Spain

    • Jesús F. Jordá Pardo
    • , José-Manuel Maíllo-Fernández
    •  & Mario Menéndez
  23. The Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel

    • Anat Marom
  24. Àrea de Prehistòria, Universitat de Girona, pl. Ferrater Mora 1, 17071 Girona, Spain

    • Julià Maroto
    • , Joaquim Soler
    •  & Narcís Soler
  25. CNRS, UMR 5608, TRACES, Toulouse Jean Jaurès University, Maison de la Recherche, 5 Allées Antonio Machado, 31058 Toulouse, Cedex 9, France

    • Laure Metz
    •  & Ludovic Slimak
  26. Department of Anthropology, Trent University, Life and Health Sciences Building Block C, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, Ontario K9J 7B8, Canada

    • Eugène Morin
  27. Dipartimento di Antichità, Filosofia e Storia, Università di Genova, Via Balbi 2, Genova I-16126, Italy

    • Fabio Negrino
  28. Ephoreia of Paleoanthropology of Southern Greece, Ardittou 34B, Athens 11636, Greece

    • Eleni Panagopoulou
  29. Università di Ferrara, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Sezione di Scienze Preistoriche e Antropologiche, Corso Ercole I d’Este 32, I-44100 Ferrara, Italy

    • Marco Peresani
  30. Service public de Wallonie, DGO4, Direction de l′Archéologie, rue des Brigades d′Irlande, 1, B-5100 Jambes, Belgium

    • Stéphane Pirson
  31. Departamento de Historia, Universidad de Oviedo, c/Teniente Alfonso Martínez, s/n, 33011 Oviedo, Spain

    • Marco de la Rasilla
    •  & David Santamaria
  32. Département d’Anthropologie, Université de Montréal, C. P. 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, Quebec H3T 1N8, Canada

    • Julien Riel-Salvatore
  33. Service of Scientific Heritage, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

    • Patrick Semal
  34. UCD Earth Institute and School of Archaeology, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

    • Ron Pinhasi
  35. Department of Prehistory and Europe, Franks House, The British Museum, London N1 5QJ, UK

    • Roger Jacobi
  36. The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK

    • Roger Jacobi
  37. The Cantabria International Institute for Prehistoric Research (IIIPC), University of Cantabria, Avda. Los Castros, s/n. 39005 Santander, Spain

    • Alejandro Garcia-Moreno

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Contributions

T.H. and R.J. conceived the project. T.H. obtained funding and directed the project. T.H., R.W., K.D., F.B., C.B.R. and A.Ma. performed pre-treatment chemistry, AMS dating and Bayesian analysis using OxCal. T.H., R.W., K.D., L.B. and R.J. sampled materials for AMS dating. T.H. and K.D. wrote the paper and all co-authors contributed to the draft. K.D. and T.H. produced the figures and illustrations. R.J., L.B., M.C., A.A., J.B., C.B.-R., C.Be., C.Bo., P.B., M.C., N.J.C., C.D., A.F., B.G., P.G., A.G.-M., S.G., P.H., B.H., M.-J.I.-C., A.J., J.F.J.P., J.-M.M.-F., J.M., M.M., L.M., E.M., A.Mo., F.N., E.P., M.P., S.P., M.d.l.R., J.R.-S., A.R., D.S., P.S., L.S., J.S., N.S., A.V. and R.P. provided permits and archaeological samples, expertise on site sequences and prior data for the modelling.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tom Higham.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Text and Data for Archaeological sites in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Belgium, United Kingdom, Lebanon and Russia and Supplementary references (see contents list for details).

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    Supplementary Data

    This file contains Supplementary Data.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13621

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