by Gerd-Christian Weniger

The Collaborative Research Centre "Our Way to Europe" steps into its second phase

One of the largest European projects on the expansion of Pleistocene modern humans from Africa to Europe steps into its second phase. After a two-day assessment by an international commission, another four years of research of the Collaborative Research Centre "Our Way to Europe" have been approved. About 70 researchers of the Universities of Cologne, Bonn and Aachen are involved, and with them the Neanderthal Museum.

The Neanderthal Museum functions as coordinator of cluster C „Western Mediterranean". What has happened here so far?
We dated long known archaeological sites on the Iberian Peninsula and in Morocco and studied their stratigraphy again using new high-resolution geoscientific methods. We have discovered new sites, investigated them archaeologically and took soil samples to in their vicinity to gain information on environmental history.

All data obtained so far shows that the settlement history of the region some 100.000 to 10.000 years ago shifted and was frequently interrupted. Populations became extinct due to environmental stress and were replaced by new immigrant groups. This has not only affected the transition from Neanderthals to anatomically modern humans, but also later shifts in the hunter-gatherer populations. We have summarized these results in a "Repeated Replacement Model". In the western Mediterranean, it was mainly periods of extreme drought which led to the collapse of the human population. Our studies suggest that especially the south of the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco were risk habitats for hunters and gatherers. Therefore, our analysis indicates also that a longer survival of Neanderthals in southern Spain is unlikely.

This has probably led to only a small exchange across the Strait of Gibraltar, leaving only scarce traces. We have gained a lot of new data and developed innovative models of explanation. Many BA, MA and PhD dissertations have meanwhile been completed. We look forward to the next four years and to the excellent cooperation with our partners in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

More information about the Collaborative Research Centre "Our Way to Europe" can be found here.

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