The modern human colonization of western Eurasia: when and where?
Dating the timing of the replacement of local Neandertal populations by modern humans in western Eurasia at the dawn of the Upper Palaeolithic remains challenging due to the scarcity of the palaeontological evidence and to the complexity of the archaeological record. Furthermore, key specimens have been discovered in the course of excavations that unfortunately did not meet today's archaeological standards. The importance of site-formation processes in the considered time period makes it sometimes difficult to precisely assign fragmentary remains a posteriori to distinct techno-complexes. The improvements in dating methods have however allowed for the clarification of many chronological issues in the past decade. Archaeological and palaeontological evidence strongly suggest that the initial modern colonization of eastern Europe and central Asia should be related to the spread of techno-complexes assigned to the Initial Upper Palaeolithic. This first expansion may have started as early as 48 ka cal BP. The earliest phases of the Aurignacian complex (Protoaurignacian and Early Aurignacian) seem to represent another modern wave of migrations, starting in the Levant area. The expansion of this techno-complex throughout Europe completed the modern colonization of the continent. The interpretation of a third group of industries referred to as “transitional assemblages” in western and central Europe is much debated. At least in part, these assemblages might have been produced by Neandertal groups that may have survived until c. 41 ka cal BP, according to the directly dated Neandertal specimens of Saint-Césaire (France) and Spy (Belgium).