Several hominin teeth found the Paleolithic site of La Cotte de St Brelade in Jersey may belong to Neanderthal-Homo sapiens hybrids, according to new research led by the Natural History Museum, London.
A reconstruction of a Neanderthal man. Image credit: Neanderthal Museum.
The thirteen permanent fully erupted teeth were excavated at the Paleolithic site of La Cotte de St Brelade in 1910 and 1911.
They were all found in the same location, on a ledge behind a hearth within the cave.
“La Cotte de St Brelade is a site of huge importance and it continues to reveal stories about our ancient predecessors,” said Olga Finch, Jersey Heritage’s Curator of Archaeology.
While the La Cotte teeth have Neanderthal characteristics, several specimens lack features normally found in Neanderthals, and certain aspects of their shape are typical of anatomically modern humans.
Recent dating of adjacent sediments suggested a probable age of less than 48,000 years for the fossils. This suggests they could have represented some of the youngest Neanderthal remains known.
“Given that modern humans overlapped with Neanderthals in some parts of Europe after 45,000 years ago, the unusual features of these La Cotte individuals suggest that they could have had a dual Neanderthal-modern human ancestry,” said senior author Professor Chris Stringer, a researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, London.
“This idea of a hybrid population could be tested by the recovery of ancient DNA from the teeth, something that is now under investigation.”
The La Cotte teeth were previously recorded as belonging to a single Neanderthal individual.
However, Professor Stringer and colleagues found that the teeth are from at least two adult individuals who share the same distinctive features, suggesting traits prevalent in their population.
“This work offers us a glimpse of a new and intriguing population of Neanderthal people and opens the door to a new phase of discovery at the site,” said co-author Dr. Matt Pope, a researcher in the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.
“We will now work with Jersey Heritage to recover new finds and fossils from La Cotte de St Brelade, undertake a new programme analysis with our scientific colleagues, and put in place engineering to protect this very vulnerable site for the future.”
“It will be a mammoth project and one to watch for those fascinated by our closest evolutionary relatives.”
The results were published in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Tim Compton et al. 2021. The morphology of the Late Pleistocene hominin remains from the site of La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey (Channel Islands). Journal of Human Evolution 152: 102939; doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2020.102939
This article is based on text provided by the Natural History Museum, London.