Archaeologists uncover 200,000-year-old Neanderthal remains in France
Scientists have discovered a rare collection of Neanderthal remains at the open-air site of Tourville-la-Rivière in the Seine Valley of northern France. According to a report in the journal PLOS ONE, three long bones – from the same left upper limb – have been found, which are believed to belong the Neanderthal lineage in the Middle Pleistocene era, and are aged between 236,000 and 183,000 years
Tourville-la-Rivière was first discovered as a sand and gravel quarry in 1967 and has since sparked the interest of archaeologists, who have found numerous items of interest, including the remains of about 15 animal species, as well as lithic assemblages from the Early and Middle Palaeolithic era.
“The extensively excavated area (>2.5 acres) provides a window on a large part of the late Middle Pleistocene river valley, where humans transported stone tools between areas, discarding particular implements either where new ones were produced and then exported for later use or in locations where they were briefly used,” wrote the researchers in their newly published report.
Location of the open-area site of Tourville-la-Rivière and other Northwest European contexts. Source: PLOS ONE.
Left: general view of the site during excavation; Right: general stratigraphy of Tourville-la-Rivière. Source: PLOS ONE.
The bones represent the only known arm bones recovered from the Middle Pleistocene era, and it is only the second time remains as old as this have been found in France. In the 1980s two partial crania from this period were excavated from Biache-Saint-Vaast in northern France.
“Despite numerous sites of great antiquity having been excavated since the end of the 19th century, Middle Pleistocene human fossils are still extremely rare in northwestern Europe,” wrote the study authors. “Apart from the two partial crania from Biache-Saint-Vaast in northern France, all known human fossils from this period have been found from ten sites in either Germany or England.”
The Tourville 1 human remains in anterior view placed adjacent to the left arm bones of the a previously recovered female Neanderthal. Source: PLOS ONE.
One interesting feature on the upper-arm bone is a ridge that has been caused by a rupture of the ligament, which may have been due to repetitive movements, such as throwing. Could this be evidence that Neanderthals used launched projectiles, such as javelins? Until now, the widespread view has been that Neanderthals predominantly used thrusting spears and that only modern humans used projectiles. But the latest finding draws this perspective into question.
The researchers explained that the significance of this discovery is not only that these fossils are the oldest found in France, but also that they “provide new material to what remains an extremely limited fossil sample from northwestern Europe” and “fill both geographic and chronological gaps in our understanding of this important period in European prehistory.”
Featured image: Neanderthal bones found on site at Tourville-la-Rivière. Source: PLOS ONE