Modern humans 'blitzed Europe'

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Our ancestors colonised Europe and wiped out their Neanderthal cousins even faster than we thought, says a study published today.

Argument has raged for years about whether our ancestors from Africa outsurvived, killed or bred with the Neanderthals, who were stronger, bulkier and shorter but had equally large brains.

Now developments in radiocarbon dating suggest that many of the dates published over the past 40 years are likely to underestimate the true ages of the samples.

Prof Paul Mellars, of the University of Cambridge, describes today in the journal Nature how better calibration of radiocarbon ages have led to revisions of radiocarbon dates in the crucial 40,000 to 50,000 year time period when modern humans are thought to have arrived in Europe.

Applying the new dates suggests that their period of co-existence with Neanderthals was much shorter than thought. "They were racing across Europe," said Prof Mellars. "Before we thought it took them around 4,000 years to get from the Balkans to the western Atlantic coast. Now it looks like it could have been 2,500 years."

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