Wil Roebroeks a,1 and Marie Soressi a
aFaculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, 2300 RA, Leiden, The Netherlands
Edited by Richard G. Klein, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and approved February 26, 2016 (received for review December 14, 2015)
The last decade has seen a significant growth of our knowledge of the Neandertals, a population of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers who lived in (western) Eurasia between ∼400,000 and 40,000 y ago. Starting from a source population deep in the Middle Pleistocene, the hundreds of thousands of years of relative separation between African and Eurasian groups led to the emergence of different phenotypes in Late Pleistocene Europe and Africa. Both recently obtained genetic evidence and archeological data show that the biological and cultural gaps between these populations were probably smaller than previously thought. These data, reviewed here, falsify inferences to the effect that, compared with their near-modern contemporaries in Africa, Neandertals were outliers in terms of behavioral complexity. It is only around 40,000 y ago, tens of thousands of years after anatomically modern humans first left Africa and thousands of years after documented interbreeding between modern humans, Neandertals and Denisovans, that we see major changes in the archeological record, from western Eurasia to Southeast Asia, e.g., the emergence of representational imagery and the colonization of arctic areas and of greater Australia (Sahul).
Neandertals early modern humans Middle Paleolithic Middle Stone Age
1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: W.Roebroeks@arch.leidenuniv.nl.
Author contributions: W.R. and M.S. designed research, performed research, and wrote the paper.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
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