miércoles, 5 de marzo de 2014

Modern Human faces Neanderthal across the Danube (Austria)

In Palaeolithic Europe 40,000 years ago, two different human species; anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals met for the first time. This collision of cultures resulted in our survival, while the Neanderthals vanished forever.

Millennia of Neanderthals in the Danube corridor

It is without question that Neanderthals were the first to inhabit the corridor into what is now Europe. Scientific dating shows they were already in the Danube region tens of thousands of years before anatomically modern humans appeared there. On the Berglitzl, a glacial island in the Danube, Neanderthal artefacts dating to around 100,000 years ago have been recovered.
In the Rameschhöhle cave in the Totes Gebirge mountain range in Austria, archaeologists unearthed Levallois points from a 50,000 year-old layer along with countless remains of  bears. The Levallois technique is first found in the Lower Palaeolithic but is most commonly associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industries of the Middle Palaeolithic.
The cave entrance is located around 2000 metres above sea level and there is speculation that Neanderthals would have visited this site during a warm phase of the last Ice Age, possibly to hunt bear?

The arrival of a new neighbour

Around 40,000 years ago the transition period began, with anatomically modern humans penetrating into the Danube corridor.
Up until this point the area had been ancestral land occupied exclusively by Neanderthal communities. Two recently discovered sites on the Rivers Enns and Danube provide this evidence. Ernsthofen, on the low terrace of the River Enns at around 300 metres above sea level was perhaps the largest outdoor Neanderthal site yet found in the Danube region. Hundreds of high-quality tools made from quartzite, quartz and other lithic materials have been found directly below the present surface, all worked in typical Levallois technique. During the construction work for a single-plot house in the same area, further evidence of older stone tool working was also recovered.

Camp of early Homo sapiens

Exactly at the same height on the banks of the Danube in Weinzierl, near the city of Perg, a camp of anatomically modern humans was also found, occupied at around the same time as the Neanderthal camp on the opposite bank in Ernsthofen (the two riverside camps match in geologic terms a contemporaneous river level).
The artefacts of the modern humans were typically blades and flakes knapped from cherts and radiolarites obtained from the river terrace deposits. These were typically manufactured using a reduction flaking technique, the so-called volumetric method. In Weinzierl, thousands of artefacts found on the loess-covered ridge suggest that it must have been a large working site over a long period of time where a significant number of people lived.
Most importantly, it is here that the first occurrence of jewellery appears such as perforated snail shells and drilled teeth that were probably sewn onto clothing or worn on leather thongs.

Two species of humans separated only by a river

Many questions arise from the distinct possibility that two species of humans lived almost within sight of each other on opposite river terraces at the same point in time. The presence of their typical artefact technologies within contemporaneous terrace layers creates a strong case for this scenario.
The modern human camp was on the the south-facing slopes of the Danube valley and therefore would have enjoyed more hours of sunshine per day than the Neanderthal camp. In the Ice Age that would have certainly worked to their advantage.
But still the question persists. How did these two groups manage to coexist? Between their two camps flowed the Danube – was this a natural boundary that prevented tension? If we accept that an encounter somewhere in this area was inevitable, then what sort of contact may have ensued?

Who crossed the river?

Firstly, one or other group would have had to cross the mighty Danube. When this happened it may have led to competition for the same food resources. Perhaps that was ultimately one of the reasons for the disappearance of Neanderthals from the Danube corridor? Maybe modern humans were simply better hunters and out competed their neighbours?
Or, did it come down to acts of violence, in which the Neanderthals were driven from the land that they had inhabited for tens of thousands of years?
There are in fact many possible scenarios, including sickness or lower birth rate, which would have seen ​​the tiny Neanderthal population of only a few thousand individuals dwindle and die. Possibly they were overtaken by the faster breeding modern humans who consumed their resources and pushed them to extinction?
Hopefully new discoveries will take place within the next few years that may help to solve this Prehistoric puzzle. At the moment though, one can only imagine the scenario in the Danube valley as the two species eyed each other across the broad river. Two species, two technologies and two cultures, with only one inevitable outcome.

Source: Past Horizons: http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/03/2014/modern-human-faces-neanderthal-across-the-danube

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