Neanderthal Greek paradise found
|View of the opening of the Kalamakia cave showing the excavated sediments [Credit: Katerina Harvati et al]|
Previously, only one other Neanderthal tooth suggested that the now-extinct hominids settled in Greece.
Katerina Harvati, head of paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen’s Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironments, studied the remains and identified multiple Neanderthals representing a child, a teen and both male and female adults. It is unclear if all were related.
The Neanderthals chose a scenic place to live, with the Mani area to this day drawing tourists.
"The site is currently very close to the sea," said Harvati, lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Human Evolution. "During glacial times the sea level was lower, so there likely would have been a coastal plain exposed in front of the site. This habitat would be ideal for the kinds of animals that humans hunted."
Fallow deer and ibex were two such animals eaten by Neanderthals and, later, modern humans. The Neanderthals seemed to have a particular fondness for tortoise meat. The shells -- from shellfish too -- mostly were all recycled into tools, such as implements for scraping.
Dental wear suggests that the Neanderthals enjoyed a varied diet consisting of seafood, meat and plants. Studies on Neanderthals from other locations suggest they were primarily carnivorous, but it appears they just took advantage of whatever foods were available.
The remains further suggest that Neanderthals inhabited caves whenever possible, perhaps cave-hopping along the western coast of the Mani peninsula.
"The identification of Neanderthal teeth and bones representing numerous individuals at Kalamakia Cave supports the common occurrence of this human species in southern Greece," Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, told Discovery News.
He added, "This is not unexpected, given their presence along the Mediterranean coastal area from Gibraltar through Spain, France, Italy, and Croatia and in Israel, Syria and other parts of the Middle Eastern Levant. I expect Harvati's new fieldwork project to recover additional fossils from Greek sites, which have not yet produced human remains, and I hope to see more complete specimens in the future."
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and in the case of the Neanderthals it appears to have been an abrupt one. The entire species went extinct some 30,000 years ago. Harvati speculated that this part of Greece might have been a refuge for Neanderthals. Humans were likely in the region about 40,000 years ago.
Still other researchers theorize that Neanderthals were simply absorbed into the human culture, due to interbreeding. The unique culture of the Neanderthals, however, disappeared forever.
Author: Jennifer Viegas | Source: Discovery News [May 22, 2013]