Scientists have stumbled upon a long-lost home for Neanderthals believed to have been lost through excavation 100 years ago.
In 2011, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) scientists found preserved geological deposits in a cave on the island of Jersey, located off the coast of Normandy, France. The site, which houses sediments that date back to the last Ice Age, contains the only known late Neanderthal remains in northwestern Europe.
"We were sure from the outset that the deposits held some archaeological potential, but these dates indicate we have uncovered something exceptional," Dr. Matt Pope of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, who helped lead the research, said in a statement. "We have a sequence of deposits which span the last 120,000 years still preserved at the site. Crucially, this covers the period in which Neanderthal populations apparently went 'extinct.'"
The study, published in the Journal of Quaternary Science, explains how the team dated the sediments found in the La Cotte de St Brelade cave using a special technique that measures when the remnants were last exposed to sunlight. The data showed that the sediments were anywhere between 100,000 and 47,000 years old.
Excavations on the La Cotte cave began around 1910. At the time, British ethnologist Robert R. Marett discovered some hominid teeth and other remains of habitation by Neanderthals. The latest discovery proves that the teeth were younger than previously thought.
"The discovery that these deposits still exist and can be related to previously excavated deposits opens up a range of exciting possibilities," said Dr. Martin Bates, University of Trinity St. Davids, who is leading current fieldwork at the site.
Other excavations took place at the site in the 1960s and 1970s, which uncovered remains from Pleistocene mammals, including a pile of bones and teeth of woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros. The latest excavation is the first to take place at the site since the early 1980s.
"Working with our partners to bring these rediscovered sediments under new analysis will allow us to bring the lives of the last Neanderthal groups to live in northwest Europe into clearer focus," Pope said. "We may be able to use this evidence to better understand when Neanderthal populations disappeared from the region and whether they ever shared the landscape with the species which ultimately replaced them, us."