The debates about the timing of the extinction of the last Neandertals in Iberia seem to one of those interminable disagreements around which paleoanthropologists can’t ever reach a resolution. Another offering from PLoS ONE, Pego do Diabo (Loures, Portugal): Dating the Emergence of Anatomical Modernity in Westernmost Eurasia:
Using AMS radiocarbon and advanced pretreatment techniques, we dated a set of stratigraphically associated faunal samples from an Aurignacian III-IV context excavated at the Portuguese cave site of Pego do Diabo. Our results establish a secure terminus ante quem of ca.34,500 calendar years ago for the assimilation/replacement process in westernmost Eurasia. Combined with the chronology of the regional Late Mousterian and with less precise dating evidence for the Aurignacian II, they place the denouement of that process in the 37th millennium before present.
These findings have implications for the understanding of the emergence of anatomical modernity in the Old World as a whole, support explanations of the archaic features of the Lagar Velho child’s anatomy that invoke evolutionarily significant Neandertal/modern admixture at the time of contact, and counter suggestions that Neandertals could have survived in southwest Iberia until as late as the Last Glacial Maximum.
The paper is pretty long, and probably as opaque to most readers who are as unfamiliar as I with the nuts & bolts of physical anthropology, so ScienceDaily is worth reading:
These findings have important implications for the understanding of the archaic features found in the anatomy of a 30,000 year old child unearthed at Lagar Velho, Portugal. With the last of the Iberian Neanderthals dating to many millennia before the child was born, ‘freak’ crossbreeding between immediate ancestors drawn from distinct ‘modern’ and ‘Neanderthal’ gene pools cannot be a viable explanation. The skeleton’s archaic features must therefore represent evolutionarily significant admixture at the time of contact, as suggested by the team who excavated and studied the fossil.
Citation: Zilhão J, Davis SJM, Duarte C, Soares AMM, Steier P, et al. (2010) Pego do Diabo (Loures, Portugal): Dating the Emergence of Anatomical Modernity in Westernmost Eurasia. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8880. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008880