Nature has two papers relating to the dispersal of Homo sapiens in Europe. The first, by Higham et al provides new dates on KC4 (Kent’s Cavern), a maxilla fragment attributed to Homo sapiens. The new dates (44.2 – 41.5 kyr cal BP) make KC4 contemporary with late European Neanderthals. The Higham et al article also rexamines the morphology of KC4 and confirms that it is Homo sapiens.
The second, arguably more interesting paper, by Benazzi et al takes a fresh look at two deciduous molars (Cavallo – B and Cavallo – C) discovered in 1964 at Grotta del Cavallo, Italy. The Grotta del Cavallo is the Type site for the Uluzzian – a industry seen as transitional between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic (as are the Chatelperronian and Szeletian). Cavallo – B has always been considered a modern human deciduous molar (a left upper 1st molar) whereas Cavallo – C has been classified as a Neanderthal and this has been this justification for the Neanderthal-Uluzzian connection. Benazzi et al re-examine both teeth and conclude that both come from modern humans. They go on to say that:
The re-attribution of the teeth of Grotta del Cavallo to anatomically modern human has implication for the interpretation of the Uluzzian technocomplex. The presence of personal ornaments in the form of marine shell beads, worked bone and colorants – including ochre and limonites – in the Uluzzian layers of Grotte del Cavallo has been used as direct evidence for the Neanderthals reaching behavioral modernity independent of, and before, anatomically modern humans reaching Europe. These attributes are all more typical of Upper Paleolithic industries. This multiple species model for the origin of fully modern behavior has been considered by some to be an impossible coincidence and a fervent debate has ensued among prehistorians on the behavioral and cognitive capabilities of the transitional industries found across Europe and the Levant. Our results show that the Uluzzian is not a Neanderthal industry.
Update 1: Hawks picks up on something I had missed in the Higham et al paper
For Further Reading
Higham et al (2010) Chronology of the Grotte du Renne (France) and
implications for the context of ornaments and human remains within the Châtelperronian