Did Proto-Aurignacian trigger Neanderthal extinction?

Tooth confirms that Proto-Aurignacian toolmakers were modern humans

A new study has confirmed that a lower deciduous (‘milk tooth’) incisor from Riparo Bombrini is from a modern human, based on its morphology. An upper deciduous incisor from Grotta di Fumane is also modern, based on the extraction of ancient mitochondrial DNA from it. Both sites are associated with the Proto-Aurignacian culture and confirm it to be a modern human rather than Neanderthal culture. The sites are around 41,000 to 39,000 years old.

The Proto-Aurignacian appeared around 42,000 years ago in Southwest and South-Central Europe. It is associated with ornaments, such as perforated shell beads, and it is characterized by bladelets with typical retouched artefacts such as Font-Yves points and Dufour bladelets. This industry has been linked to the Ahmarian tool tradition of the Levant and since the Ahmarian is attributed to modern humans, it has been widely-accepted that the Proto-Aurignacian reflects a westward migration of modern humans from Southwest Asia. However, up until now there has been a lack of supporting fossil evidence for this hypothesis.

The importance of this new confirmatory dental evidence is that they demonstrate that by 41,000 to 39,000 years ago, modern humans were present in Southern Europe. This date range coincides very closely with dates for the disappearance of Neanderthals from the region, with the implication that the spread of the Proto-Aurignacian was responsible for their demise.

1.  Benazzi, S. et al., The makers of the Protoaurignacian and implications for Neandertal extinction. Science 348 (6236), 793-796 (2015).
2.  Conard, N. & Bolus, M., Chronicling modern human’s arrival in Europe. Science 348 (6236), 754-756 (2015).




Author: prehistorian

Prehistorian & author