Neanderthals may have survived in Europe
much longer than previously thought.
A study in Nature magazine in 2006 suggested
the species may have lived in Gorham's Cave on Gibraltar up
to 24,000 years ago. Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis)
were previously believed to have died out about 29,000 years
ago, at a time when modern humans were advancing across Europe.
The 2006 evidence showed that they held on
in Europe's far south long after the arrival of Homo
sapiens. The research team believed that the Gibraltar
Neanderthals may even have been the very last of their kind.
Their study showed conclusively that Gorham's
Cave was the last place on the planet in which Neanderthals were
known to have lived. The study was lead by Professor Clive
Finlayson, director of heritage at the Gibraltar Museum.
Once thought to have been the ancestors of modern
humans, the Neanderthals were eventually proven to be cousins, with
both they and Homo sapiens evolving from the same species of
human, Homo Heidelbergensis.
They appear in the fossil record around 300,000-400,000
years ago and, at their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters
dominated a wide range, spanning Britain and Iberia in the west to
Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east. Homo sapiens
evolved in Africa from about 200,000 years ago. They displaced the
Neanderthals in the Middle East and then again after entering Europe
about 40,000 years ago.
Researchers from Britain, Gibraltar, Spain, and
Japan obtained radiocarbon dates on charcoal from ancient hearths
which had been unearthed deep inside Gorham's Cave on Gibraltar.
The charcoal came from soil layers in the cave from which
archaeologists had previously unearthed stone tools of a type made
exclusively by Neanderthals.