Human civilisation needed three attempts, 12,000 years to colonise Europe: Study
As per controversial new research, between 54,000 and 42,000 years ago, modern people had to colonise Europe in three successive waves. That is the main finding of researchers who have been looking at caves in the Rhone valley.
They have found evidence that suggests Homo sapiens had to make three determined attempts to move from western Asia to the west and north before they could settle on the continent.
“The first two of these waves failed but the third succeeded around 42,000 years ago,” said Ludovic Slimak of the University of Toulouse who is leading the excavations in France. “After that, modern humans took over in Europe. The Neanderthals, who had evolved on the continent, died out.”
The origins of one of the important ancient stone tool industries that have been discovered in central France are also disputed in this controversial research. The lithic industry that produced these tools is called Châtelperronian, after the place where the first specimens were discovered in the nineteenth century.
These tools have now been attributed to Neanderthal toolmakers by many scientists. They are notable for their exquisite, narrow blades and technical manufacture.
But Slimak rejects this view. “The Châtelperronian tools are the handiwork of modern humans, and given their similarity to stone tools that were being made in the Middle East, we conclude they were brought there by Homo sapiens as they moved into Europe.”
Professor Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum reportedly said, “This is a provocative and ambitious paper."
“In particular, it argues that the Châtelperronian stone industry, which is usually assumed to be the product of Neanderthals, was actually the work of Homo sapiens. Supposed associations of Neanderthal fossils with Châtelperronian tools must therefore be invalid, he is saying.”
The tiny 54,000-year-old pointed stone tools that have been discovered in the Grotte Mandrin cave in the Rhône Valley resemble arrowheads and have led Slimak to argue that modern humans, who first emerged from Africa around 60,000 years ago, may have been equipped with bows and arrows.
The ability to kill prey from a distance without putting themselves at risk would have given the newcomers a significant edge over the native Neanderthals.
But after around 40 years, this initial population of modern humans that arrived at the site vanished from the fossil record, and Neanderthals later took over the area.
One answer is straightforward, says Slimak. Those early waves of humans simply lacked numbers. He believes there were up to 100 men, women and children in the Grotte Mandrin settlement.
“That may not have been sufficient to maintain their biological strength and perhaps they could not exchange genes with local Neanderthals because the fertility between them was poor,” he added.
He disagreed with the notion that modern people and Neanderthals did not get along well. In fact, all signs point to healthy relations between the two groups.
Then came the third wave, and this time it seems that our ancestors did have the numbers, Slimak added.
“The third time they came in, modern humans did so with a really huge wave of people and began to build social networks, not with Neanderthals but with individual small separate groups of Homo sapiens in order to build a huge network throughout Europe. And in the end, that is what started the decline of the Neanderthals in Europe.”