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Stupid, brutish, and primitive: that’s the “caveman” stereotype that’s been applied to Neanderthals time after time. But it’s the same stereotype that a growing body of evidence is showing to be flat-out wrong. In fact, there’s an ongoing debate about the extent and significance of the known genetic (and other) differences between Neanderthals and early modern humans like us.

Tune in to discover:

  • What the interactions between early modern humans and Neanderthals might have looked like, and what potential advantages might have allowed early modern humans to persist, and Neanderthals to go extinct
  • Which factors are considered by scientists when defining the term ‘species’ and differentiating one species from another, and the implications this may have for our understanding of Neanderthals versus modern humans
  • About what percentage of Neanderthal DNA still exists within modern humans

For the past 25 years, Professor and Chair at the University of Louisville, Dr. Jonathan Haws, has been investigating early modern human ancestors. For the last 10 to 15 years, he’s been excavating a cave in Portugal that provides something few others do: a very long, fairly continuous sequence in time, without giant gaps caused by localized erosion. This provides a unique look into longstanding questions about our evolutionary past, such as how modern humans dispersed from Africa into Southeast and Western Europe, to Spain and Portugal, and what happened to Neanderthals who were living in those regions.

The cave’s sequence goes from about 10,000 years ago to between 70,000 and 80,000 years ago. Particular interest lies in the time period between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago, when Neanderthals went extinct and early modern humans migrated into Portugal. Experts, including Dr. Haws, are still unable to say with certainty whether there was direct interaction between early modern humans and Neanderthals in this region, but new genetic evidence demonstrates that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals in many places over several thousand years around the edge of Southeast Europe and into the Near East.

With the use of total station technology and LiDAR technology (light detecting and ranging), a detailed, 3D mapping of all artifacts and the vertical and horizontal layout of the cave is being captured and examined. Dr. Haws shares the details of what they’re finding, illustrating his firsthand experience of the cave for listeners, and explaining the processes and stages of archaeological fieldwork in the process.

Visit to learn more.

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