Accelerator mass spectrometer suggests cultural exchange between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens

New high precision radiocarbon dates of bone collagen show that a cultural exchange may have taken place between modern humans and Neanderthals more than 40,000 years ago.

It has long been debated whether the Châtelperronian (CP), a transitional industry from central and southwestern France and northern Spain, was manufactured by Neanderthals or modern humans.

An international team of researchers led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now analysed bone samples from two sites in France, Grotte du Renne and Saint Césaire, and radiocarbon-dated them using an accelerator mass spectrometer. The new high precision dates show that the CP bone tools and body ornaments were produced by Neanderthals.

However since these late Neanderthals only manufactured Châtelperronian body ornaments after modern humans arrived in neighboring regions, the study suggests that cultural diffusion might have taken place between modern humans and Neanderthals.

The so called ''transitional industries'' are a key for understanding the replacement process of Neanderthals by modern humans in western Eurasia at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago. While in Europe the older Mousterian industry of the Middle Paleolithic can be clearly attributed to Neanderthals and the later Upper Paleolithic assemblages to modern humans, the nature of the makers of the transitional Châtelperronian (CP) industry has long been disputed.

CP assemblages from the French sites Grotte du Renne and Saint Césaire have yielded well-identified Neanderthal remains. However at the Grotte du Renne, CP layers also produced rather sophisticated bone tools and body ornaments. Despite this fossil evidence the question of whether Neanderthals could manufacture such sophisticated objects is the topic of intense debate.