Human ecodynamics of late Neanderthal survival and anatomically modern human expansion at the Middle-Upper Paleolithic Transition, Lapa do Picareiro, Portugal


With support from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Jonathan Haws (University of Louisville) and Dr. Michael Benedetti (University of North Carolina Wilmington) are leading a multi-year study of Neanderthal extinction and replacement by anatomically modern humans in central Portugal. The project brings together an international team to recover high-resolution archaeological, geological and paleoecological records from the excavation of Lapa do Picareiro, a cave in central Portugal. Our research is designed to test three possible scenarios: 1) southern Iberia was abandoned by both Neanderthals and modern humans; 2) Neanderthals existed in southern Iberia; and 3) modern humans were present, spreading into the region soon after they arrived in northern Iberia. The ultimate goal is to test replacement models based on human responses to climate and environmental change.

Lapa do Picareiro is a unique site, with over 10m of sediments spanning 75,000 years. The sequence includes almost 2m of deposits dated between 30-42 ka cal BP, making it an ideal locale to track changes in paleoenvironments and human ecodynamics across the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition. The proposed methodology uses radiocarbon dating to establish age control for the sedimentary sequence and the archaeological materials, stone tool analyses for both relative dating and means for understanding the human decision-making of Middle and Upper Paleolithic humans, animal bone assemblages to reconstruct paleoenvironments and understand Neanderthal and modern human diets. Sediment analyses are key to understanding the site formation processes and environmental context of human occupation. Taken together, the work will establish a complete paleoenvironmental and geoarchaeological chronology for the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition at Lapa do Picareiro, providing critical context that is missing from many other sites in the region.

The project contributes to theories about a major development in human evolution. It offers a unique opportunity to resolve long-standing debates about the last Neanderthals and earliest modern humans in Southern Iberia. Broadly, this work will contribute to a greater understanding of the timing and nature of the transition by analyzing the role that environmental change, technology and diet choice played in human evolution. Data from the proposed excavation could potentially uncover new archaeological evidence that would transform our understanding of this period.

The benefits of this project to society at large include a deeper understanding of human evolution and human decision-making in the face of dramatic environmental changes of the recent geologic past. The project also offers scientific engagement and cultural enrichment for student participants who will join an interdisciplinary research team in an international setting. The PIs have demonstrated success in mentoring student research during previous NSF projects. Many of the students involved in this project over the past 5 years have been first-generation college students from under-represented and rural demographic groups. Recruiting these students has the dual benefits of diversifying the field crew and enriching the educational experience for students who may not otherwise have opportunities for international travel or study. This project will generate partnerships among American, Portuguese and Czech universities, creating new collaborative learning and research opportunities for students and scientists alike.

Cite this Record

Human ecodynamics of late Neanderthal survival and anatomically modern human expansion at the Middle-Upper Paleolithic Transition, Lapa do Picareiro, Portugal. ( tDAR id: 426941) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8DN471Z

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: -75000 to -10000

Spatial Coverage

min long: -8.664; min lat: 39.509 ; max long: -8.635; max lat: 39.549 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Jonathan Haws; Michael Benedetti

Resources Inside this Project (Viewing 1-9 of 9)

  1. 2014 total station data (2014)
  2. 2015 total station data (2015)
  3. 2015 total station data (2015)
  4. 2016 total station data (2016)
  5. 2016 total station data (2016)
  6. Aerial view of the site (2015)
  7. Entrance to the cave (2015)
  8. Plan of Lapa do Picareiro (2015)
  9. View of the site (2015)