A trove of Neanderthal fossils including bones of children and adults, discovered in a cave in Greece hints the area may have been a key crossroad for ancient humans, researchers say.
The timing of the fossils suggestsNeanderthals and humans may have at least had the opportunity to interact, or cross paths, there, the researchers added.
Neanderthals are the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, apparently even occasionally interbreeding with our ancestors. Neanderthals entered Europe before modern humans did, and may have lasted there until about 35,000 years ago, although recent findings have called this date into question.
To learn more about the history of ancient humans, scientists have recently focused on Greece.
“Greece lies directly on the most likely route of dispersals of early modern humans and earlier hominins into Europe from Africa via the Near East,” paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati at the University of Tübingen in Germany told LiveScience. “It also lies at the heart of one of the three Mediterranean peninsulae of Europe, which acted as refugia for plant and animal species, including human populations, during glacial times — that is, areas where species and populations were able to survive during the worst climatic deteriorations.”
“Until recently, very little was known about deep prehistory in Greece, chiefly because the archaeological research focus in the country has been on classical and other more recent periods,” Harvati added.
Harvati and colleagues from Greece and France analyzed remains from a site known as Kalamakia, a cave stretching about 65 feet (20 meters) deep into limestone cliffs on the western coast of the Mani Peninsula on the mainland of Greece. They excavated the cave over the course of 13 years.
The archaeological deposits of the cave date back to between about 39,000 and 100,000 years ago to the Middle Paleolithic period. During the height of the ice age, the area still possessed a mild climate and supported a wide range of wildlife, including deer, wild boar, rabbits, elephants, weasels, foxes, wolves, leopards, bears, falcons, toads, vipers and tortoises.