Neanderthal Neighbors

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So, were Neanderthals and “modern humans” neighbors in Russia or not?

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Two new studies on Russian Neanderthals are challenging anthropological views. Infant skeletons from the Mezmaiskaya Cave were carbon dated with a new improved method. The report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that Neanderthals became extinct in the Caucasus at least 40,000 years ago, too early to share Russia with modern humans. Meanwhile, archaeologists at Byzovaya near the Arctic Circle unearthed 313 Neanderthal tools as well as butchered mammoth bones. Their conclusions, published in Science, assert that Neanderthals not only thrived much farther north than previously thought but did so until as recently as 28,500 years ago. Since the dig sites are widely separated, the results are not actually in conflict, but they do challenge widely held ideas about Neanderthals.

Archaeologist Ludovic Slimak is confident that his Mousterian tools, the type associated with Neanderthals, are really 28,500 years old. He says, “There were different laboratories using different methods, all giving very convergent [the same] dates . . . we are not dealing with a radiometric measuring error, but with a historic and anthropological reality.”1 Common wisdom asserts Neanderthals went extinct 30,000–33,000 years ago.

Because these skeletons at Mezmaiskaya were dated using a technique designed to minimize contamination, the PNAS study contends that their 40,000 year extinction date is reliable. As archaeologist Ron Pinhasi states, “It now seems much clearer that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans did not co-exist in the Caucasus, and it is possible that this scenario is also true for most regions of Europe. Many of the previous dates for late Neanderthal occupation or sites across Europe are problematic.”

Although Mousterian tools are typically thought to be of Neanderthal origin, Pinhasi points out that they may have been produced by modern humans, saying, “We have to directly date Neanderthal and anatomically modern human fossils to resolve this.”

No human remains were found at the Byzovaya site. But if Mousterian tools showing evidence of a thriving habitation near the Arctic Circle are truly Neanderthal in origin, then the popular theory that Neanderthals were not smart enough to cope with the cold should be dismissed. Incidentally, another recent study of dietary residue contained in Belgian and Iraqui Neanderthal tooth calculus has documented that Neanderthals were sophisticated enough to bake or boil a variety of plant foods, another practice which should put to rest the intellectual inferiority notion.

Radiometric dating methods are based on uniformitarian assumptions which cannot be confirmed, and methods used to date tools rely on anthropological assumptions which also cannot be confirmed.

Neanderthal ancestors dispersed from Babel (Genesis 11) along with other humans. Division of the population and environmental challenges later produced people groups with distinctive physical characteristics, including Neanderthals and modern humans. But there is no biblical—or archaeological—reason to presume Neanderthals were intellectually inferior to other humans.

Furthermore, biblical chronology indicates the earth is only 6,000–7,000 years old. Radiometric dating methods are based on uniformitarian assumptions which cannot be confirmed, and methods used to date tools rely on anthropological assumptions which also cannot be confirmed. The Neanderthal population was scattered over a wide area, so their neighbors likely varied. But whenever the last Neanderthal died, we can be confident that it was much more recent than 28,500 years ago.

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  1. Dan McLerran, “The Last Neanderthals?,”, May 12, 2011,


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