The researchers mapped out the most likely route that Neanderthals could have taken to leave Europe, given the climatic conditions of the time.
Northern Iran, south of the Caspian Sea, may be rich in Neanderthals that have yet to be discovered. This conclusion was made by an international group of researchers from Germany and Iran, who modeled the most likely route for the migration of ancient people from Europe.
These methods point to potential research opportunities in obscure regions of Iran and Central Asia, where simulations predict ideal Paleolithic habitats.
The study builds on the results of an earlier DNA-based study that found that Neanderthals in Uzbekistan and the Altai region of southern Siberia were of European origin, although it is not clear how they were transmitted.
“Recent studies of Western Eurasia have expanded our knowledge of Neanderthal migration and dispersal patterns, their interbreeding with other hominin species such as Denisovans and Homo sapiens, and the colonization of new ecological niches,” the researchers write.
They added: “The degree of geographical expansion of populations depends largely on the spatial distribution of habitats and suitable corridors connecting these habitats. With regard to the spread of Neanderthals from Europe to the east, the immediate ranges are the Piedmontese in the Caucasus Mountains and the Alborz Mountains. However, the role of these corridors in early processes expansion is closely linked to a complex pattern of favorable climatic conditions.
The researchers used an open source geographic information system (QGIS) augmented with biogeographic information about past climate conditions to build a least cost pathfinding (LCP) model for the most likely Neanderthal dispersal paths among a number of known cave sites.
Modeling of European #neanderthal migration alludes to hidden archaeological hotspots in Iran @PLOSONEhttps://t.co/rTpR1CtbHR https://t.co/5mFmkehy11
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LCP models are not always the most direct linear paths because they allow for unobstructed paths and costly obstacles along the way, similar to how a car’s GPS only guides you to your destination on roads with less traffic, construction, or closures. .
For traveling Neanderthals, the “cost” of each particular route depended on factors such as climate, resource availability, and the benefits of living along the route.
The first two sites considered are located in the Caucasus, between the Black and Caspian Seas, and the rest of the cave sites are located in the Alai Mountains in Russia.
The group noted that the Caucasian monuments contain two different types of “cultural material” – artifacts and tools – separated by high mountains.
They explained that these differences may represent two different lines of Neanderthal migration into and out of the region.
The model identified those areas that would experience the least climatic fluctuations and thus provide the most stable environment for plants and animals.
In particular, the group focused on the southern passage of the Caspian Sea, which had a relatively mild and humid climate, making it an ideal route for expansion and settlement.
This route from Europe may also have become an attractive migration gateway for Homo sapiens arriving on the continent from Africa and the Levant.
This raises the possibility that the corridor was an important cultural meeting point between our species and our Neanderthal relatives, the researchers say.
The full results of the study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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