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October 2, 2020

Did early modern humans and Neanderthals live in the same area concurrently?

Modern humans arrived in the westernmost part of Europe about 5000 years earlier than previously known. NSF funded researchers from the University of Louisville and University of North Carolina at Wilmington have made a discovery in Portugal that may indicate early modern humans and Neanderthals lived in the area concurrently about 40,000 years ago.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

New digs.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Lapa do Picareiro -- a cave near the Atlantic coast of central Portugal. An international team of researchers discovers ancient stone tools like the ones used by early modern humans as they migrated across Europe, along with animal bones showing evidence of butchering and cooking. But there's a twist. State-of-the-art technology to date the bones reveals that early modern humans arrived in westernmost Europe between 41 and 38,000 years ago -- some 5,000 years earlier than previously thought.

A big deal because it may mean modern humans showed up while the area was still home sweet home to Neanderthals. Did they mix in? Did it affect the ultimate disappearance of the Neanderthals? Good questions science is still trying to answer.

But added to other findings, this study gets us closer to understanding where we came from and how we spread to become a global species. And maybe why many of us have some Neanderthal genes in us.

Lapa do Picareiro has been under excavation for 25 years. Researchers say just when you start to think it might be done giving up its secrets, a new surprise gets unearthed.

Kinda like when you think you're out of fries, and you dig and score some bonus ones at the bottom of the bag.

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