Earliest Modern Artifacts in Europe – Blade-Like Tools and Teeth Pendants – Were Created by Homo Sapiens

Stone artifacts from the Initial Upper Paleolithic at Bacho Kiro Cave: 1-3, 5-7 Pointed blades and fragments from Layer I; 4 Sandstone bead with morphology similar to bone beads; 8 The longest complete blade.
Credit: Tsenka Tsanova, License: CC-BY-SA 2.0

Innovative tools and pendants previously thought to be possibly the work of Neanderthals.

Blade-like tools and animal tooth pendants previously discovered in Europe, and once thought to possibly be the work of Neanderthals, are in fact the creation of Homo sapiens, or modern humans, who emigrated from Africa, finds a new analysis by an international team of researchers.

Its conclusions, reported in the journal Nature, add new clarity to the arrival of Homo sapiens into Europe and to their interactions with the continent’s indigenous and declining Neanderthal population.

The analysis centers on an earlier discovery of bones and other artifacts found in the Bacho Kiro cave in what is modern-day Bulgaria.

“Our findings link the expansion of what were then advanced technologies, such as blade tools and pendants made from teeth and bone, with the spread of Homo sapiens more than 45,000 years ago,” explains Shara Bailey, a professor in NYU’s Department of Anthropology and one of the paper’s co-authors. “This confirms that Homo sapiens were mostly responsible for these ‘modern’ creations and that similarities between these and other sites in which Neanderthals made similar things are due to interaction between the populations.”

The findings offer a new understanding of both the nature of these species and their interactions.

“If Neanderthals had created these ‘modern’ tools and jewelry, it would have indicated they had more advanced cognitive abilities than previously recognized,” explains Bailey. “Nonetheless, there are some similarities in manufacturing techniques used by Homo sapiens at Bacho Kiro and Neanderthals elsewhere, which makes clear that there was cultural transmission going on between the two groups.”

The analysis was led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The team, which included scientists from Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom, focused on the transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic period, between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago. During this time, the European continent experienced the replacement and partial absorption of local Neanderthals by Homo sapiens populations from Africa. However, this process, anthropologists say, likely varied across regions, and the details of this transition remain largely unknown.

To better comprehend a piece of this transition, the team focused on one of several places–Bacho Kiro–where discoveries of the earliest modern technologies, such as pendants and blades, have been made.

To ascertain which species occupied the area of these discoveries, the scientists deployed several methodologies. Bailey, an expert in tooth analysis, and her colleagues examined teeth and bones that had been found in Bacho Kiro.

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