Sacre bleu! Big news on the early modern human front this week in France as researchers published findings that suggest Homo sapiens were actually roaming Earth about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. Even more astonishing, early modern humans and our bi-pedal predecessors overlapped for a time in an area in southern France. The researchers published their findings in Science Advances. (We first saw this at NBC News.)
The findings in France’s Rhône Valley center on fossils discovered in Grotte Mandrin. As the researchers note, aside from a possible settlement in Greece, for a long time, scientists largely believed Homo sapiens started roaming Earth sometime between 45,000 to 43,000 years ago. However, after the discovery of a Homo sapien tooth and tools akin to those used by the early modern humans, that date may very well be off by 10,000 years.
Instead, it appears Homo sapien settlements date back to Europe between 56,800 and 51,700 years ago. An era primarily associated with Neanderthals as the prominent hominins.
As the paper notes, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens didn’t just overlap during their stay at Grotte Mandrin. The evidence they left behind suggests they cohabitated in the area. However, there’s no evidence yet that they actually interacted during this period. (Although we do know that there was some interbreeding between the species.)
Mandrin documents the first alternating occupation of Neanderthals and modern humans, with a modern human fossil and associated Neronian lithic industry found stratigraphically between layers containing Neanderthal remains associated with Mousterian industries.
The scientists found the Homo sapien tooth of a child between ages two and six and tool remnants in between layers of Neanderthal teeth. (Homo sapien (left) and Neanderthal (right) teeth are quite distinct.) This is definitive proof that the site was residence to both hominin species.
As such, there’s no evidence (yet) that homo sapiens and Neanderthals shared some delightful Rhône wine. But maybe they enjoyed its fermented grape predecessor.