An early Aurignacian arrival in southwestern Europe


Westernmost Europe constitutes a key location in determining the timing of the replacement of Neanderthals by anatomically modern humans (AMHs). In this study, the replacement of late Mousterian industries by Aurignacian ones at the site of Bajondillo Cave (Málaga, southern Spain) is reported. On the basis of Bayesian analyses, a total of 26 radiocarbon dates, including 17 new ones, show that replacement at Bajondillo took place in the millennia centring on ~45–43 calibrated thousand years before the present (cal ka bp)—well before the onset of Heinrich event 4 (~40.2–38.3 cal ka bp). These dates indicate that the arrival of AMHs at the southernmost tip of Iberia was essentially synchronous with that recorded in other regions of Europe, and significantly increases the areal expansion reached by early AMHs at that time. In agreement with human dispersal scenarios on other continents, such rapid expansion points to coastal corridors as favoured routes for early AMH. The new radiocarbon dates align Iberian chronologies with AMH dispersal patterns in Eurasia.

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Fig. 1: Selected archaeological sites in western Europe and North Africa.
Fig. 2: Representative lithic industries from Bajondillo site archaeological levels Bj/14–Bj/11.
Fig. 3: Comparison between the chronologies of the different archaeological levels at Bajondillo Cave and a selection of palaeoenvironmental proxies.

Data availability

The described archaeological collections are housed at Museo Arqueológico de Málaga, Spain.


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M.C.-S. was provided access by the Consejería de Cultura of the Junta de Andalucía (Spain) to analyse the Bajondillo Cave fauna (UPPH/49/06). The research was sponsored by grants HAR2013-44269-P and HAR 2016-77789-P from the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad. A.G.-A. acknowledges a Ramón y Cajal Fellowship (RYC-2015-18966) of the Spanish Government (Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad).The research of C.S. is supported by the Calleva Foundation and Human Origins Research Fund. The paper constitutes contributions from the HUM-949 Research Group (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain) and ICArEHB (University of Algarve, Portugal).

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M.C.-S., F.J.J.-E., A.M.-M. and C.S. conceived and designed the experiments and wrote the manuscript. All authors analysed the data. M.C.-S., M.D.S.-V., C.P.O. and J.A.R.-C. performed the archaeology and lithic technology. A.M.-M. performed the archaeozoology. R.P.G., A.M.G. and F.J.J.-E. produced the figures and palaeoreconstruction. A.G.-A. and N.O. performed the geochronology. M.C.L.F. and J.L.V.P. performed the archaeomalacology.

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Correspondence to Francisco J. Jiménez-Espejo.

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Cortés-Sánchez, M., Jiménez-Espejo, F.J., Simón-Vallejo, M.D. et al. An early Aurignacian arrival in southwestern Europe. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 207–212 (2019).

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