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Were Protoaurignacian’s Modern Humans or Neandertals?

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3D models of the two teeth. (Daniele Panetta, CNR Institute of Clinical Physiology)

3D models of the two teeth. (Daniele Panetta, CNR Institute of Clinical Physiology)

Many cultures existed in Europe about 40-45,000 years ago. About 42,000 years ago, in southern Europe, the Protoaurignacian developed and the culture that followed marked a turning point in modern humanity. They made the earliest instruments, the earliest art, and possibly the first representation of a human figure. It has been hard to conclusively prove that the Protoaurignacians actually were human since Neandertals were just ending their occupation of Europe during this time frame. In fact, only three remains have ever been recovered from known Protoaurignacian sites: a fragment of fetal bone from France and two teeth, found in different parts of northern Italy in 1976 and 1992.

A new study published in Science implied that the founders of this culture were actually humans. Benazzi and his team examined the enamel and the mtDNA of two tooth samples. Neandertal’s have thin, evenly worn down enamel layers. The Protoaurignacian tooth was closer to human measurements. When comparing the mtDNA of the tooth to 54 humans, 10 ancient humans and 10 Neandertals as well as another extinct human and chimpanzee, the tooth was more modern human than not… Leading us to infer Protoaurignacian culture can be traced back to modern humans — not, at least exclusively, highly skilled Neanderthals.

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