August 31, 2005

Ancient and Modern Man Lived Side by Side

(Women were, perhaps, in another settlement, baking Aurignacian pies.)

Did Neanderthals and the first ancestors of modern man ever meet? The argument has raged among archaeologists and paleontologists for decades.

Now a group of scientists claim to have proof -- based on radiocarbon dating of artefact finds in France -- that the two distinct groups did indeed share the same space at the same time some 38,000 years ago.

"These data strongly support the chronological coexistence -- and therefore potential demographic and cultural interactions -- between the last Neanderthal and the earliest anatomically and behaviourally modern human populations in western Europe," they wrote in the latest edition of the science journal Nature.

Some scientists have argued that Neanderthals and the first ancestors of modern man existed at the same time -- at least for a while -- but in different places, while others have argued that Neanderthals died out before modern man came along.

Others still have suggested that they not only met but may even have interbred.

The arguments have ebbed and flowed for generations -- fueled from time to time by new artefact finds, mainly from Kenya's Rift Valley.

But the team of scientists writing in Thursday's edition of Nature believe they may have settled the dispute with analysis of tools discovered at different depths in the cave of the Grotte des Fees at Chatelperron in central France.

In the cave a layer of tools from the later so-called Aurignacian culture -- named after Aurignac near Spain where they were first discovered -- were found sandwiched between two layers of tools attributed to earlier Neanderthals.

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