Since their discovery over 150 years ago, Neanderthals have captured the imagination of scientists and the general public. Researchers have been trying to understand their life ways and the processes through which they disappeared. Archaeology and the earth sciences are particularly well placed to address this dilemma because both investigate processes that act over deep time. Within this broad context, Dr. Jonathan Haws (University of Louisville) and Dr. Michael Benedetti (University of North Carolina Wilmington) will lead a three-year study of Neanderthal extinction and replacement by anatomically modern humans . The project brings together an international team to recover high-resolution archaeological, geological and paleoecological records from the excavation of Lapa do Picareiro, a cave in central Portugal. The project is designed to test whether or not differences in land use and diet allowed Neanderthals to survive in southwestern Europe longer than anywhere else. The ultimate goal is to determine why Neanderthals went extinct and were replaced by modern humans. The benefits of this project to society at large include a deeper understanding of human evolution, particularly the role played by environmental change, technology and diet choice. The project also offers scientific engagement and cultural enrichment for student participants who will join an interdisciplinary research team in an international setting. The PIs and their institutions have shown commitment to undergraduate research and demonstrated success in mentoring student research in previous NSF-funded projects. Many of the students involved in this project over the past 5 years have been first-generation college students from under-represented, working poor, and rural demographic groups in Kentucky and eastern North Carolina. Recruiting these students has the dual benefits of diversifying the field crew and enriching the educational experience for students who may not otherwise have opportunities for international travel or study. Building on the success of our previous work in Portugal, this project will also continue to generate scientific partnerships among American, Portuguese and Czech universities, creating new collaborative learning and research opportunities for students and faculty alike.

Lapa do Picareiro is a unique site, with about 10m of sediments spanning over 50,000 years. The sequence includes almost 2m of intact deposits dated between 30-42,000 years ago, making it an ideal place to track changes in paleoenvironments and human ecodynamics during the critical period of Neanderthal extinction and modern human colonization of Europe. The proposed methodology uses radiocarbon dating to establish age control, stone tool analyses to understand the decision-making of Paleolithic humans, animal bone assemblages to reconstruct paleoenvironments and understand Neanderthal and modern human diets, and sedimentological analyses to infer site formation processes and environmental context of human occupation. Taken together, the work will establish a complete paleoenvironmental and geoarchaeological chronology for the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition at Lapa do Picareiro, providing critical context that is missing from many other sites in the region.

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University of Louisville Research Foundation Inc
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