Skeleton and restoration model of Neanderthal exhibit at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan. Credit: Photaro

New research indicates that the Neanderthals disappeared much earlier than previously assumed. These new findings now indicate that the species died out about 40,000 years ago. And this would imply that our own species and the Neanderthals co-existed for a maximum of 5,000 years.

It was previously thought that the Neanderthals lived on in Europe to about 30,000 years ago. And that Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals, therefore, shared the same geographical habitat for a very long time. These new findings will force researchers to rethink this.

The findings are a result of the most comprehensive study ever done to map the Neanderthal history.

Previously it has been very difficult to determine more exactly when the Neanderthals died out, mainly due to technological limitations.

But now with the help of very sophisticated mass spectrometry implementing the carbon-14 method and mathematical models, the researchers at the University of Oxford has been able to date about 200 samples found at 40 sites from Spain to Russia.

The researchers now believe that the Neanderthals likely became extinct between 41,030 and 39,260 years ago. Since after this interval, the typical Neanderthal tool culture known as the Mousterian had disappeared. And the Neanderthal tool culture of Châtelperronian also disappeared simultaneously. And the last groups of Neanderthals probably lived in the south of France.

Mousterian is a name given by archaeologists to a style of predominantly flint tools. Credit: Didier Descouens

At that time, the first representatives of our own species Homo Sapiens had established themselves in Europe. The earliest tools typical for Homo Sapiens emerge roughly 45,000 years ago. The two species would, therefore, had coexisted for about 5,000 years.

Thomas Higham is an archaeologist at the University of Oxford and led the study; “We believe we now have the first robust timeline that sheds new light on some of the key questions around the possible interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans,”.

The findings were published in the journal Nature, see below.

The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance