Direct radiocarbon dating and genetic analyses on the purported Neanderthal mandible from the Monti Lessini (Italy)
Anatomically modern humans replaced Neanderthals in Europe around 40,000 years ago. The demise of the Neanderthals and the nature of the possible relationship with anatomically modern humans has captured our imagination and stimulated research for more than a century now. Recent chronological studies suggest a possible overlap between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans of more than 5,000 years. Analyses of ancient genome sequences from both groups have shown that they interbred multiple times, including in Europe. A potential place of interbreeding is the notable Palaeolithic site of Riparo Mezzena in Northern Italy. In order to improve our understanding of prehistoric occupation at Mezzena, we analysed the human mandible and several cranial fragments from the site using radiocarbon dating, ancient DNA, ZooMS and isotope analyses. We also performed a more detailed investigation of the lithic assemblage of layer I. Surprisingly we found that the Riparo Mezzena mandible is not from a Neanderthal but belonged to an anatomically modern human. Furthermore, we found no evidence for the presence of Neanderthal remains among 11 of the 13 cranial and post-cranial fragments re-investigated in this study.