Neanderthal and early modern human culture coexisted with older traditions for over 100,000 years

Research from the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation found that one of the earliest cultures of stone tools, known as the Acheulean, likely persisted for tens of thousands of years. years longer than previously thought.

The Acheulean is estimated to have become extinct around 200,000 years ago, but new findings suggest it may have persisted much longer, creating over 100,000 years of overlap with more advanced technologies produced by Neanderthals. and the first modern humans.

The research team, led by Dr Alastair Key (Kent) alongside Dr David Roberts (Kent) and Dr Ivan Jarić (Biology Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences), made the discovery while studying the records of stone tools from different parts of the world. Using statistical techniques new to archaeological science, archaeologists and conservation experts have been able to reconstruct the end of the Acheulean period and reconstruct the archaeological records.

Acheulean technology around the world

Map showing the distribution of Acheulean technology around the world. Credit: Dr Alastair Key

Previously, a faster change between earlier Acheulean stone tool designs often associated with Homo heidelbergensis – the common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals – and more advanced “Levallois” technologies created by early modern humans and Neanderthals, has been speculated. However, the study shed new light on the transition between these two technologies, suggesting a substantial overlap between the two.

Acheulean stone tool technologies are the oldest cultural tradition practiced by early humans. Originating in East Africa 1.75 million years ago, axes and cleavers – the types of stone tools that characterized this period – were used in Africa, Europe and Asia by many different species of primitive humans. Prior to this discovery, it was widely believed that the Acheulean period ended between 300 and 150,000 years ago. However, the file lacked specific dates and the timing of her disappearance has been hotly debated. The Kent and Czech Republic team found that the tradition likely ended at different times around the world, ranging from 170,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa to 57,000 years ago in Asia.

To understand when the Acheulean ended, the team collected information from different archaeological sites around the world to find the last known stone tool assemblies. A statistical technique known as optimal linear estimation – commonly used in conservation studies to estimate species extinctions – has been used to predict how long the tradition of stone tools continued after known sites. the most recent. Indeed, the technique made it possible to model the part of the archaeological file still to be discovered.

Dr Key, a Paleolithic archaeologist and lead author of the study, said: “Early archaeological records will always be an incomplete picture of early human behavior, so we know it is unlikely that the youngest known Acheulean sites actually represent the final instances.of these technologies being produced.By allowing us to reconstruct these missing parts of the archaeological record, this technique not only gives us a more precise understanding of the end of the tradition, but it also gives us an indication of where the tradition ended. ‘place where we can expect to find new archaeological finds in the future.

Dr Roberts added: ‘This technique was originally developed by myself and a colleague for dating extinctions, as the last sighting of a species is unlikely to be the date it became known. actually extinct. It’s exciting to see it applied in a new context.

Their research paper “Modeling the Late Acheulean at Global and Continental Levels Suggests Widespread Persistence in the Middle Paleolithic” is published by Communication in human and social sciences.

Reference: “Modeling the end of the Acheulean at the global and continental levels suggests widespread persistence in the Middle Paleolithic” by Alastair JM Key, Ivan Jarić and David L. Roberts, March 2, 2021, Communication in human and social sciences.
DOI: 10.1057 / s41599-021-00735-8

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