by Greg Mayer
In a recent paper in Nature (abstract only), Tom Higham of Oxford and several colleagues report on their effort to determine by radiocarbon dating when Neanderthals went extinct. Higham et al. conclude that it was about 40,000 years ago. It’s gotten a fair amount of media coverage—more on this below—but let’s look at the science first. What’s most interesting is that they strove very hard to get accurate dates not biased by contamination of their samples by younger carbon (developing new and refined methods along the way), and that they sampled a large number of sites across (mostly Western) Europe. Here’s the basic result.
a) Sites studied; b) dates of last occupation of the various sites (expressed as a probability distribution); c) detail of the overall estimate of the end of Neanderthal culture (the Mousterian).
You can see that latest dates range from about 49 to 40…
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