The early modern human remains from the Pestera Muierii (Cave of the Old Woman), Romania, which were discovered in 1952, have been poorly dated and largely ignored.
But recently, a team of researchers from the Anthropological and Archaeological Institutes in Bucharest, Romania, and from WUSTL has been able to directly date the fossils to 30,000 years ago. The fossils prove that a strict population replacement of the Neandertals did not happen.
“What these fossils show is that these earliest modern humans had a mosaic of distinctly modern human characteristics and other characteristics which align them with Neandertals, suggesting some combination of modern humans dispersing into Europe and interacting with and absorbing the Neandertal population,” said Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor of physical anthropology in Arts & Sciences.
“These fossils have the potential to shed light on several issues regarding early modern Europeans.”
The team’s research will appear online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The human remains from the Pestera Muierii present a basically modern human-derived pattern, which is evident in discrete traits and metric aspects throughout the sample. It therefore joins the sample of human remains from the sites of Pestera cu Oase and Pestera Cioclovina in southeastern Europe, Mlade in Central Europe, and Brassempouy, La Quina Aval and Les Rois in western Europe in filling out the anatomy of the earliest of modern humans in Europe.
Yet, as with many of these other Early Upper Paleolithic modern Europeans, the Muierii fossils exhibit a number of archaic and/or Neandertal features.
These data reinforce the mosaic nature of these early modern Europeans and the complex dynamics of human reproductive patterns when modern humans moved westward across Europe.
So what are they telling us if both this and the story about Neanderthals having more DNA in common with chimps than humans are true?