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October 03, 2023

Close encounters vs missed connections? A museum-led team publishes a major paper on human evolution

Close encounters vs missed connections? A museum-led team publishes a major paper on human evolution Image

A team comprising Gibraltar National Museum scientists, working alongside colleagues in the University of Zurich, Stony Brook University (New York) and Universidad de Murcia, have just published a major paper on human evolution in the peer-reviewed journal Quaternary Science Reviews (QSR). QSR is the highest-ranked journal in Quaternary studies and the paper’s first author, Professor Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar National Museum, expressed his delight at having had the paper published.

The paper provides an up-to-date critical overview of the human occupation of Eurasia in the Late Pleistocene and evaluates current theories and hypotheses. Weaknesses of current interpretations of available data are emphasised. The recent advances in research in this field are discussed and brought together in an interdisciplinary perspective changing the traditional picture of human evolution. The authors state that “we are at a point of inflection in human evolutionary studies and we provide a way forward.”

The authors show that recent advances in the study of ancient DNA recovered from fossils and cave sediments have profoundly changed our views on the biological and cultural interactions between populations and lineages of fossil Homo in the Late Pleistocene of Eurasia. A spatiotemporally complex picture emerges, with multiple population admixture and replacement events. Focusing on the evidence from Western Eurasia, they consider how the mapping out of between-species interactions based on fossil and material cultural evidence is being replaced by a broader approach. Traditional narratives about human migrations and the biological and/or cultural advantages of our own species over the Neanderthals are now giving way to the study of the biological and cultural dynamics of past human populations and the nature of their interactions in time and space.

In their concluding remarks, the authors state unequivocally that the two competing models of human origins, which dominated the literature for several decades, are now defunct. Historical narratives of the timing and extent of human species migrations, of Modern Human advantages over others, and indeed on the timing of extinctions, that probably did not happen, are finally giving way as the focus moves towards looking at the biology and culture of human populations and the nature of their interactions in time and space. They conclude by saying that we must now not only accept the reality of the “Neanderthal inside us”, but also that of “us inside the Neanderthals”.

 


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