Pre-Neanderthals were present in Europe 200,000 years earlier than previously thought!

The age of hominid footprints discovered in southern Spain in 2020 has just been reassessed. The study shows that they would date from approximately 300,000 years and that they would belong to pre-Neanderthal men.

In June 2020, footprints attributed to hominids were discovered in southern Spain, bordering the beach of El Asperillo, producing a small revolution in the scientific world. The dating of the geological units directly covering the paleosol in which these footprints are imprinted revealed that they were approximately 106,000 years old. This chronological context had then made it possible to attribute the footprints to Neanderthals, opening an interesting discussion on the evolution of this community and on its ecological role in this region at a time when the climateclimate was particularly favorable.

However, new elements have come to upset this pattern. Based on another dating method, a team of scientists has just revealed that the footprints could actually be much older. And that changes everything!

Footprints almost 300,000 years old!

If the previous study had attempted to date the sedimentsediment covering the tracks, thus producing an upper limit for the age of the footprints, the researchers this time focused on dating the paleosol itself. To do this, they used a luminescence dating technique. This technique makes it possible to determine the absolute age of sediments that have been exposed to lightlight from SunSun. Indeed, some mineralsmineralsonce buried, are able to store within their crystal lattice an unstable charge ofelectronselectrons related to their previous exposure to ionizing radiation from the sun. By stimulating these minerals (quartz and feldspar) with light and analyzing their luminescent signal, it is possible to estimate how long the paleosol level has been buried.

The results obtained within the framework of this new dating of the samples from El Asperillo are, to say the least, astonishing. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, they reveal that the footprints are 295,800 years old, almost 190,000 years older than previously assumed. This new result thus makes this site a unique place in Europe, since there are extremely few footprints of hominids dating from this period. The site of El Asperillo is also particularly important: today it contains more than 300 footprints, 10% of which are in an excellent state of preservation.

A walk on the beach between pre-Neanderthals

But are they men of NeanderthalNeanderthal ? With this new dating, doubt sets in. For scientists, the analysis of morphologymorphology of the foot suggests that the hominids that walked on this Middle Pleistocene beach were more likely Neanderthal lineage ancestors. The climatic environment associated with this presence is also very different from what was previously suggested. The Middle Pleistocene period is indeed a turning point from a climatic point of view. It marks the transition between a warm period (360,000 to 300,000 years ago) and an episode of glaciation (300,000 to 240,000 years ago). The footprints of El Asperillo are the only ones known to date dating from this major climate transition in Europe.

This new chronology therefore implies a modification of the scenario hitherto in force on the presence of human communities in the Gulf of Cadiz, which was then subject to a more temperate and more humid climate than the rest of Europe where the fall of temperature was already being felt. The vegetation was then very dense in this region and the sea level about 60 meters below the current one. The hominids would thus have walked in the muddy sediments of a vast flood zone bordering the coast.

This reassessment of the age of these footprints therefore provides valuable information on the evolution of human occupation in Europe during the Pleistocene.

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