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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 has found that one of the earliest stone tool cultures, known as the Acheulean, probably survived tens of thousands of years longer than previously thought.

The Acheulean was estimated to have died out about 200,000 years ago, but the new findings suggest it may have existed for much longer, creating more than 100,000 years of overlap with more advanced technologies produced by Neanderthals and early modern humans.

The research team, led by Dr. Alastair Key (Kent) along with Dr. David Roberts (Kent) and Dr. Ivan Jarić (Biological Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences), made the discovery while studying data on stone tools from different regions around the world.

world. Using statistical techniques new to archaeological science, the archaeologists and conservation experts were able to reconstruct the end of the Acheulean period and remap the archaeological record.

Map indicating the spread of Acheulean technology around the world. Credit: Dr. Alastair Key


Previously, a faster shift has been assumed between the 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.

However, the study has shed new light on the transition between these two technologies, indicating significant overlap between the two.

Acheulean stone tool technologies are the longest-lived cultural tradition practiced by the early humans.

Originating in East Africa 1.75 million years ago, hand axes and cleavers — the types of stone tools characteristic of the period — were used in Africa, Europe and Asia by various types of early humans.

Prior to this discovery, the Acheulean period was widely believed to have ended between 300-150,000 years ago. However, the record was lacking in specific dates, and the timing of its demise has been heavily debated.

The Kent-Czech 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 gathered information about various archaeological sites from around the world to find the latest known collections of stone tools.

A statistical technique known as optimal linear estimation — often used in conservation studies to estimate species extinctions — was used to predict how long the stone tool tradition continued beyond the most recently known sites.

In fact, the technique was able to model the yet-to-be-discovered portion of the archaeological record. dr. Key, a Paleolithic archaeologist and the study’s lead author, said:

“The earliest archaeological record will always be an incomplete picture of early human behavior, so we know that the youngest known Acheulean sites are unlikely to represent the latest specimens.” of these technologies being produced.

By enabling us to reconstruct these missing pieces of the archaeological record, this technique not only gives us a more accurate understanding of when the tradition ended, but it also gives us an indication of where we can find new archaeological finds in the future. expect.’

dr. Roberts added: ‘This technique was originally developed by myself and a colleague to date extinctions, because the last sighting of a species is unlikely to be the date it actually went extinct. It is exciting to see it applied in a new context.

” Their research paper “Modelling the end of the Acheulean at global and continental levels suggests widespread persistence in the Middle Paleolithic” is published by Humanities & Social Sciences Communications. Reference:

“Modelling the end of the Acheulean at the global and continental levels suggests widespread persistence in the Middle Paleolithic” by Alastair J. M. Key, Ivan Jarić, and David L. Roberts, March 2, 2021, Humanities & Social Sciences Communications.