The makers of the Protoaurignacian and implications for Neandertal extinction

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Science  15 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6236, pp. 793-796
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa2773

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Cultural prehistory in southern Europe

The Protoaurignacian culture appeared in the southern European archeological record around 42,000 years ago and was characterized by artefacts including personal ornaments and bladelets. Archaeologists have debated whether it was ancestral Homo sapiens or Neandertals who made these tools and ornaments. Benazzi et al. analyzed dental remains from two Protoaurignacian sites in Italy and confirm that they were H. sapiens. The arrival of this culture may have led to the demise of Neandertals in these areas (see the Perspective by Conard et al.).

Science, this issue p. 793; see also p. 754


The Protoaurignacian culture is pivotal to the debate about the timing of the arrival of modern humans in western Europe and the demise of Neandertals. However, which group is responsible for this culture remains uncertain. We investigated dental remains associated with the Protoaurignacian. The lower deciduous incisor from Riparo Bombrini is modern human, based on its morphology. The upper deciduous incisor from Grotta di Fumane contains ancient mitochondrial DNA of a modern human type. These teeth are the oldest human remains in an Aurignacian-related archaeological context, confirming that by 41,000 calendar years before the present, modern humans bearing Protoaurignacian culture spread into southern Europe. Because the last Neandertals date to 41,030 to 39,260 calendar years before the present, we suggest that the Protoaurignacian triggered the demise of Neandertals in this area.

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