Guide To Terminology

Kate Wong, News and Analysis, January 1998]. Since then, mtDNA from three more specimens has been retrieved and analyzed, with similarly inconclusive results.

Recent fossil evidence from western Europe has intensified interest in whether Neandertals and moderns mixed. In January 1999 researchers announced the discovery in central Portugal's Lapedo Valley of a largely complete skeleton from a four-year-old child buried 24,500 years ago in the Gravettian style known from other early modern Europeans. According to Erik Trinkaus of Washington University, Cidalia Duarte of the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology in Lisbon and their colleagues, the specimen, known as Lagar Velho 1, bears a combination of Neandertal and modern human traits that could only have resulted from extensive interbreeding between the two populations [see "The Hybrid Child from Portugal," on the next page].

If the mixed-ancestry interpretation for Lagar Velho 1 holds up after further scrutiny, the notion of Neandertals as a variant of our species will gain new strength. Advocates of the

DAY IN THE LIFE of Neandertals at the Grotte du Renne in France is along with evidence of huts and hearths, were once linked to modern imagined here. The Chatelperronian stratigraphic levels have yielded humans alone, but the Grotte du Renne remains suggest that some a trove of pendants and advanced bone and stone tools. Such items, Neandertals were similarly industrious.

DAY IN THE LIFE of Neandertals at the Grotte du Renne in France is along with evidence of huts and hearths, were once linked to modern imagined here. The Chatelperronian stratigraphic levels have yielded humans alone, but the Grotte du Renne remains suggest that some a trove of pendants and advanced bone and stone tools. Such items, Neandertals were similarly industrious.

Neandertal can also be spelled Neanderthal. Around 1900 German orthography changed, and the silent "h" in certain words, such as "thal" (meaning "valley"), was dropped. The designation Homo neanderthalensis remains the same, but the common name can be spelled either way.

Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, is the period ranging from the beginning of culture to the end of the last glaciation. It is subdivided into Lower, Middle and Upper stages.

Mousterian is a Middle Paleolithic stone tool-based cultural tradition associated with Neandertals and with early moderns in the Near East.

Aurignacian is an Upper Paleolithic cultural tradition associated with moderns that includes advanced tools and art objects.

Chatelperronian is an Upper Paleolithic cultural tradition associated with Neandertals. It resembles both the Mousterian and the Aurignacian.

THE HYBRID CHILD FROM PORTUGAL by erik trinkaus and cidalia duarte had not been previously documented for western Europe. We therefore conclude that Lagar Velho 1 resulted from interbreeding between indigenous Iberian Neandertals and early modern humans dispersing throughout Iberia sometime after 30,000 years ago. Because the child lived several millennia after Neandertals are thought to have disappeared, its anatomy probably reflects a true mixing of these populations during the period when they coexisted and not a rare chance mating between a Neandertal and an early modern human.

Fieldwork conducted in 1999 yielded major pieces of the skull and most of the remaining teeth. An international team then assembled to fully interpret this remarkable specimen. Aside from detailed comparative analyses of individual portions of the skeleton, all the remains were CT scanned and a virtual, computerassisted reconstruction of the skull was undertaken.

such rigorous technological study is

ON A CHILLY AFTERNOON in late November 1998, while inspecting the Abrigo do Lagar Velho rock-shelter in central Portugal's Lapedo Valley, two archaeology scouts spotted loose sediment in a rodent hole along the shelter's back wall. Knowing that burrowing animals often bring deeper materials to the surface, one of the scouts reached in to see what might have been unearthed. When he withdrew his hand, he held in it something extraordinary: bones of a human child buried nearly 25,000 years ago.

Subsequent excavation of the burial, led by one of us (Duarte), revealed that the four-year-old had been ceremonially interred—covered with red ocher and laid on a bed of burnt vegetation, along with pierced deer teeth and a marine shell—in the Gravettian style known from modern humans of that time across Europe. Based on the abrupt cultural transition seen in archaeological remains from the Iberian Peninsula, it seemed likely that when moderns moved into the area after 30,000 years ago, they rapidly replaced the native Neandertals. So it stood to reason that this specimen, called Lagar Velho 1, represented an early modern child. In fact, it didn't occur to us at first that it could be anything else.

This wonderfully complete skeleton does have a suite of features that align it predominantly with early modern Europeans. These include a prominent chin and other details of the mandible (lower jaw), small front teeth, a short face, the nose shape, minimal brow development, muscle markings on the thumb bone, the narrowness of the front of the pelvis, and several aspects of the shoulder blade and forearm bones.

Yet intriguingly, a number of features also suggest certain Neandertal affinities. Specifically, the front of the mandible slopes backward despite the chin, there is a porous depression above the neck muscles, the pectoral muscles are strongly developed, and the lower legs are short and stout. Thus, the Lagar Velho child exhibits a complex mosaic of Neandertal and early modern human features.

This anatomical amalgam is not the result of any abnormalities. Taking normal human growth patterns into consideration, our analysis indicates that except for a bruised forearm, a couple of lines on the bones indicating times when growth was trivially arrested (by sickness or lack of food) and the fact that it died as a child, Lagar Velho 1 developed normally. The combination can only have resulted from a mixed ancestry—something that

MORPHOLOGICAL MOSAICfound on this 24,500-year-old skeleton from Portugal indicates that Neandertals and modern humans are members of the same species who interbred freely. The child—called Lagar Velho 1—is modern overall but bears some Neandertal traits, such as short lower-limb bones and a backward-sloping mandible.

replacement model do allow for isolated instances of interbreeding between moderns and the archaic species, because some other closely related mammal species interbreed on occasion. But unlike central and eastern European specimens that are said to show a combination of features, the Portuguese child dates to a time when Neandertals are no longer thought to have existed. For Neandertal features to have persisted thousands of years after those people disappeared, Trinkaus and Duarte say, coexisting populations of Neandertals and moderns must have mixed significantly.

Their interpretation has not gone unchallenged. In a commentary accompanying the team's report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA in June 1999, paleoan-thropologists Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and Jeffrey H. Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh argued that Lagar Velho 1 is most likely "a chunky Gravettian child." The robust body proportions that Trinkaus and his colleagues view as evidence for Neandertal ancestry, Stringer says, might reflect adaptation to Por tugal's then cold climate. But this interpretation is problematic, according to Jean-Jacques Hublin of France's CNRS, who points out that although some cold-adapted moderns exhibit such proportions, none are known from that period in Europe. For his part, Hublin is troubled that Lagar Velho 1 represents a child, noting that "we do not know anything about the variation in children of a given age in this range of time."

Survival Skills

TAXONOMIC ISSUES ASIDE, much research has focused on Neandertal behavior, which remained largely misunderstood until relatively recently. Neandertals were often portrayed as incapable of hunting or planning ahead, recalls archaeologist John J. Shea of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "We've got reconstructions of Neandertals as people who couldn't survive a single winter, let alone a quarter of a million years in the worst environments in which humans ever lived," he observes. Analysis of animal remains from the Croatian site of Krapina, however, indicates that Neandertals were

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