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Les Cottés excavations reveals how Neandertals and Homo sapiens adapted to a changing climate 40,000 years ago

The transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic is a major biological and cultural threshold in the construction of our common humanity. Technological and behavioral changes happened simultaneously to a major climatic cooling, forcing human populations to develop new strategies for the exploitation of their environment. The excavations at Les Cottés (France) led by Professor Marie Soressi offer a more detailed perspective on this period.

Severe climatic changes

The demise of Neandertals and the rise of Homo sapiens in western Europe happened simultaneously to severe climatic changes including a major cooling event circa 40,000 years ago. An international team lead by Professor Marie Soressi just finished excavating at Les Cottés, a cave located close to Poitiers in France that uniquely preserves occupations by the late Neandertals and the first Homo Sapiens in the area.

Excavations at Les Cottés ran from 2006 to 2018 and was funded by the French ministry of Culture, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, INRAP and Leiden University.

In a paper just published in Scientific Reports, the team lays out the strategies developed by the humans for their subsistence throughout the long stratigraphic sequence preserved at Les Cottés. Dr William Rendu from the CNRS, France and collaborators performed a detailed zooarchaeological and taphonomic analysis of the mammalian remains found at Les Cottés and compared their results with sites from south-west France.

They show that there is no major change in the hunting strategies between the late Neandertals occupations and the first occupations by Homo Sapiens. The most common species in the environment (bovids and equids, and later on reindeers) were hunted, and parts of the carcasses rich in marrow were transported back to the site. Yet, butchery activities evolved in correlation with the development of range weapons with processing of non-nutritional materials like antler, skin, sinew, fox teeth and mammoth ivory. The demise of large carnivore like Hyenas seems to be a consequence of the human pressure on the environment.

Read the full article on the website of Nature.

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