For a long time, archaeologists believed that the 37,000-year-old Neanderthal spy would be the youngest in Europe, but according to the new study, Belgian Neanderthals disappeared from our regions between 44,200 and 40,600 years old.
A team of archaeologists, geologists, geneticists and anthropologists have dated fossils of Neanderthals from the Spy Cave and two other Belgian sites, Fonds-de-Forêt and Engis, both in Liège. They did this with a new dating method that only dated the amino acid hydroxyproline and reduced the risk of contamination with glue, for example. The team discovered, among other things, that the shoulder blade of a Neanderthal spy was heavily contaminated with bovine DNA. The results indicate that the bone was preserved with glue prepared from bovine bone.
“These new chemical methods are the only way we can reliably decontaminate samples,” said Thibaut Davies, a researcher at the University of Oxford. “The particles we’re dating only come from bone, not from other sources.”
The team is now analyzing archaeological evidence such as bone tools to improve a picture of the cultural transition between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. Inevitably, fossils of young Neanderthals from Gibraltar, Catalonia and southwestern France will also be dated again with this new technology.
Neanderthals dominated Europe and Asia for about 50,000 years, until Homo sapiens, modern humans, took their place. The Neanderthal spy is kept at the Belgian Royal Institute of Natural Sciences.