From Neandertals to modern humans: New data on the Uluzzian.

  • publication
  • 09-05-2018

Villa P, Pollarolo L, Conforti J, Marra F, Biagioni C, Degano I, Lucejko JJ, Tozzi C, Pennacchioni M, Zanchetta G, Nicosia C, Martini M, Sibilia E, Panzeri L.. PLoS One. 2018 May 9;13(5):e0196786. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196786

Having thrived in Eurasia for 350,000 years Neandertals disappeared from the record around 40,000–37,000 years ago, after modern humans entered Europe. It was a complex process of population interactions that included cultural exchanges and admixture between Neandertals and dispersing groups of modern humans. In Europe Neandertals are always associated with the Mousterian while the Aurignacian is associated with modern humans only. The onset of the Aurignacian is preceded by “transitional” industries which show some similarities with the Mousterian but also contain modern tool forms. Information on these industries is often incomplete or disputed and this is true of the Uluzzian. We present the results of taphonomic, typological and technological analyses of two Uluzzian sites, Grotta La Fabbrica (Tuscany) and the newly discovered site of Colle Rotondo (Latium). Comparisons with Castelcivita and Grotta del Cavallo show that the Uluzzian is a coherent cultural unit lasting about five millennia, replaced by the Protoaurignacian before the eruption of the Campanian Ignimbrite. The lack of skeletal remains at our two sites and the controversy surrounding the stratigraphic position of modern human teeth at Cavallo makes it difficult to reach agreement about authorship of the Uluzzian, for which alternative hypotheses have been proposed. Pending the discovery of DNA or further human remains, these hypotheses can only be evaluated by archaeological arguments, i.e. evidence of continuities and discontinuities between the Uluzzian and the preceding and succeeding culture units in Italy. However, in the context of “transitional” industries with disputed dates for the arrival of modern humans in Europe, and considering the case of the Châtelperronian, an Upper Paleolithic industry made by Neandertals, typo-technology used as an indicator of hominin authorship has limited predictive value. We corroborate previous suggestions that the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition occurred as steps of rapid changes and geographically uneven rates of spread.

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