Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The end of the Neanderthal world... geographically!!

It's all over the web!
There's an article in the New York Times
about a soon-to-be-published report by Clive Finlayson's team on new radiocarbon dates from Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar, that seem to indicate that some Mousterian tools at the site date to 28,000 BP. The NYT piece is based on a paper that should come out soon in Nature, but so far, all that's available is this news report by David Brill, titled "Neanderthal's last stand." The NYT piece also refers to a commentary by Eric Delson and Katarina Harvati to be published along with the Nature paper, in which they stress caution, but nonetheless suggest that the date seems convincing.

The news report doesn't have much more detail, except a mention that the assemblage (or is it the retouched tools?) is composed of 103 artifacts, and that the site has yielded evidence for extensive exploitation of sea resources (shellfish and mammals!). There's a comment in the news report by Paul Mellars, who rightly mentions (yes, yes... I just wrote "rightly"!) that we must be somewhat wary of the dates because minute amounts of contamination might have affected the resulting dates. However, there's no way to tell before reading the piece whether this is an issue (I suspect it's not... they probably have multiple AMS dates can be done on extremely small samples).

A few comments:
1) These are only tools that are dated; there's no associated fossils, although only Neanderthals are known t have manufactured Mousterian industries in Europe.

2) The evidence for sea mammal harvesting (in the form of scavenging) is some of the first of its kind for a Mousterian site; that, to me, is perhaps the neatest aspect of this news so far!

3) Purely coincidentally, I finished reading Finlayson's Neanderthals and Modern Humans (2004) volume today. Overall, I liked it quite a bit, especially because it takes such a refreshingly different perspective from most research on Neanderthals and modern humans (he actually formulates test hypotheses and contrasts them to the known record, as oppose to just describing the record!). It's a bit environmental deterministic, but it's very well done... too bad people don't seem to have picked up on it too much yet... hopefully this new paper will change that!

More thoughts after I've found the paper itself!

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