Neanderthals disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula earlier than from the rest of Europe

February 5, 2015, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT)

Until a few months ago, many scientific articles, including those published in 'Nature', dated the disappearance of the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) from Europe at around 40,000 years ago. However, a new study shows that these hominids could have disappeared before then in the Iberian Peninsula, closer to 45,000 years ago.

A scientific article published in Nature in August 2014 revealed that the European Neanderthals could have disappeared between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, according to the fossil remains found at sites located from the Black Sea in Russia to the Atlantic coastline of Spain.

However, in the Iberian Peninsula, the Neanderthals may have disappeared 45,000 years ago. This is what has now been revealed by data found at the El Salt site in the Valencian Community (Spain).

"Both conclusions are complementary and not contradictory," confirms Bertila Galván, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Human Evolution and researcher at the Training and Research Unit of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of La Laguna (ULL) (Tenerife, Spain).

Until now, there was no direct dating in Spain on the Neanderthal human remains which produced recent dates. "The few that provided dates were before 43,000 and 45,000 years ago in all cases," points out Galván, who says that there are more contextual datings. "Those which offer recent dates are usually labeled as dubious or have very small amounts of lithic material that can tell us little," he observes.

The study in Nature proposes that the point of departure was 40,000 years, as "there is almost no evidence of these human groups in the Eurasian region," but it also recognises that the process of disappearance is "complex and manifests itself in a regionalised manner with peculiarities in the different places," adds Galván, who also worked on the Nature research.

In this context, the new study questions the existence of the Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula later than 43,000 years ago. In doing so, the team of scientists provides data that refers specifically to the final occupations in El Salt, "a very robust archaeological context" in terms of the reliability of the remains, says the scientist.

The new timeline for the disappearance of the Neanderthals (which also includes "solid and evidence-based" information from other sites in the territory) allows for a regional reading, limited to the Iberian Peninsula; and which coincides with the remains found at other Spanish sites. "These new dates indicate a possible disappearance of the regional Neanderthal populations around 45,000 years ago," indicates the study's research team.

The gradual demise of the Iberian Neanderthals

The ample record of lithic objects and remains of fauna (mainly goats, horses and deer), as well as the extensive stratigraphic sequence of El Salt, have allowed the disappearance of the Neanderthals to be dated at a site that covers their last 30,000 years of existence.

Together with this new dating is the discovery of six teeth that probably belonged to a young Homo neanderthalensis adult and that "could represent an individual of one of the last groups of Neanderthals which occupied the site and possibly the region," say the scientists.

Analysis with high resolution techniques, which combine palaeoenvironmental and archaeological data, point to "a progressive weakening of the population, or rather, not towards an abrupt end, but a gradual one, which must have been drawn out over several millennia, during which the human groups dwindled in number," says Cristo Hernández, another of the study's authors and researcher at ULL.

This gradual disappearance coincided with a change in the climate creating colder and more arid environmental conditions, "which must have had an effect on the lives of these diminishing populations," says Hernández. The anatomically modern humans had no role in this disappearance, unlike "the significant worsening of the climate, given that their presence in these lands was much later," says the researcher.

The new dating establishes depopulation in this region between the last Neanderthals and the first anatomically modern humans. This fact has been archaeologically proven in a sedimentary hiatus that was found not only in El Salt, "but also in other sites on the Iberian Peninsula," conclude the researchers.

Explore further: New study suggests Neanderthals died out earlier, did not coexist with modern humans

More information: Journal of Human Evolution 75: 16-27 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.06.002

Related Stories

Study claims cave art made by Neanderthals

September 1, 2014

A series of lines scratched into rock in a cave near the southwestern tip of Europe could be proof that Neanderthals were more intelligent and creative than previously thought.

Recommended for you


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 05, 2015
Who is the incompetent who wrote the headline?
Who is the incompetent who did not notice the glaring error in the headline?
If you cannot get the English grammar right, why should we read your blog?
1.2 / 5 (5) Feb 05, 2015

Excerpt: "The evolution of lactase persistence is one of the best known and most dramatic examples of recent human evolution One of the ironies of working in this area is that we know it happened but we still don't fully know why" says Sverrisdóttir. Sverrisdóttir and colleagues obtained DNA from the bones of early Spanish farmers and they couldn't find the mutation that causes lactase persistence in Europeans (LCT -13910*T). if natural selection is driving lactase persistence evolution in a place where people have no problems making vitamin D in their skin, then clearly the vitamin D and calcium explanation (known as the calcium assimilation hypothesis) isn't cutting it.

Evolutionary theories that keep changing the time frame of the Neanderthal's disappearance in populations from Iberia continue to cast doubt on the credibility of researchers.
4 / 5 (5) Feb 06, 2015
mls_friends complains that the headline lacks proof checking--I assume that is because he or she has donated generously to the funding of the site and expects his or her money to be spent of such extra care. Of course, if he or she has not donated on what grounds can he or she complain given it is a free (and ad supported) site?

1 / 5 (4) Feb 06, 2015
Supported by subscriptions:


Horgan: What do you make of the antipathy toward religion expressed by Richard Dawkins and other "New Atheists?"

Kauffman: It is wonderful for them to have expressed the truth that moral behavior requires no belief in God. Morality probably evolved in Paleolithic to some extent. But to dismiss those who do believe in God, in any sense, is arrogant and useless and divisive.

My comment: Those who believe in God are less likely to believe in the pseudoscientific nonsense about mutations, lactose persistence, and evolution. That makes them more likely to look for explanations of how physics, chemistry, and molecular biology collectively contribute to link the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in the organized genomes of species from microbes to man.
1 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2015
The colder climate would imply strong volcanic activity on the planet, and with this volcanic activity would be the infrasound produced by the activity. It would be very informative to know if a change in infrasound would locally affect brain development. Would it be the case that left brain thinkers (which I believe we were primarily) were changed to right brain? That would mean the logical decisions would be altered by the right brain pattern of emotionally? A change in decisions based on emotionality instead of logic would lead to the eventual reduction of a group.
I propose that the Charvin cave art is just that; a product of a strong right brain development. At the expense of a strong left brain development. The effect on the Neanders?
1 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2015
What if they are descendants from disabled people exiled from normal human populations? We all know humans have a history of being highly discriminatory towards disabilities.

Maybe the assumption that cranial capacity correlates with intelligence is flawed in that a smaller brain could be more efficient, so that Neanderthals are smarter than assumed to be. Perhaps they were all simply hunted to extinction by modern humans in tribal wars, typically killing the males and raping or marrying the females, like Muslims do today.
1 / 5 (5) Feb 08, 2015
22 hours ago "Returners" wrote:

Classic "Evolution" is the hypothesis that all-new genes spontaneously appear on their own as adaptations to new environments.

No response to my requests for clarification has been posted, yet here we have even more nonsense added to other discussions by someone who appears to have no knowledge of physics, chemistry, or molecular biology but who continues to tell others about evolution.
5 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2015
You are abusing this blog for spreading unscientific beliefs.
5 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2015
What if they are descendants from disabled people exiled from normal human populations? We all know humans have a history of being highly discriminatory towards disabilities.

Maybe the assumption that cranial capacity correlates with intelligence is flawed in that a smaller brain could be more efficient, so that Neanderthals are smarter than assumed to be. Perhaps they were all simply hunted to extinction by modern humans in tribal wars, typically killing the males and raping or marrying the females, like Muslims do today.

Neanderthals had _bigger_ brains than homo sapiens.
"With an average cranial capacity of 1600 cm3,[12] Neanderthal's cranial capacity is notably larger than the 1400 cm3 average for modern humans"
Get your facts straight before theorizing.
Also, please abstain yourself from generalizations in the socio-political domain.
Max Ruth22
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2015

not rated yet Feb 09, 2015
@my2cts: cranial capacity is but one vector to intelligence. The amount of folding in gray matter indicates the amount of neurons. Therefore one can have a 1400cc brain _and_ have a lot more brain power than a 1600cc.
In the 80' the ford 3000cc V6 produced around 90KW. My 1600 produces the same and new 1000cc engines do so now too. The difference is in the 'soft side' (technology beyond force).
Since we can see this in mechanical evolution one should not be surprised to see the same in nature.
Secondly: even though the size is impressive, the craniofacial morphology suggests that the Neanderthals had less developed frontal brains, a component essential to complex though like planning for the future. Their brains were also extended backwards which indicates a requirement to process sensory data, specifically visual, which is quite important when you have to switch to flight/fight mode quickly (survival instinct).
Probability: they were brutes.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.