The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The evidence for modern human origins in Central Europe: 30 years since Smith’s seminal review


Department of Anthropology, University of Wyoming

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Fred Smith’s seminal review of the late hominin fossil record of Central Europe was published nearly thirty years ago (1984). This work helped highlight the importance of this region at a time when much of the debate about modern human origins was focused on the Western European record. The present paper reassesses Smith’s interpretation of the evidence in light of recent research and discoveries. New discoveries at a variety of sites, especially in eastern Central Europe, have provided more information on the period and process of the Neandertal – modern transition. New dating techniques and their direct application to fossil remains have provided more chronological clarity. The genetic revolution, including the sequencing of the Neandertal genome, has shifted our field’s theoretical focus twice: 1) from a perspective that favored overall regional continuity, as favored in Smith’s original review, to one of complete replacement and 2) from complete replacement to a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics of origins and admixture. In addition to a review of the overall state of the Central European evidence, this paper provides new results on and interpretations of the record of the Neandertal – modern transition as documented in recent discoveries from Vindija and other Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites in Croatia. The available evidence from Central Europe is most commensurate with the Assimilation Model of modern human origins, although some other models cannot be ruled out. The exact patterns of admixture between Neandertals and modern humans must await further evidence and analyses.

The U.S. Fulbright Program and the University of Wyoming provided support for this research.

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