The Research Unit of Prehistory and Anthropology (Department of Physical, Earth, and Environmental Sciences – University of Siena) will conduct a new ERC-funded project with the Universities of Bologna and Haifa.
The extinction of the Neanderthal remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the evolutionary path followed by the Homo genus. What are the causes that led to the disappearance of this species? What was the timeframe and spatial context? What was the chain of events that led to the development of this phenomenon?
LAST NEANDERTHALS is the new major research project funded with 13 million euros by the European Research Council (ERC), which will seek answers to these questions by expanding archaeological research beyond the context of Western and Central Europe.
The project is led by Principal Investigators Francesco Berna (University of Siena), Stefano Benazzi (University of Bologna) and Omry Barzilai (University of Haifa) in partnership with the Universities of Pisa and Cologne.
It is the second ERC “Synergy Grant” won by the University of Siena, an European Commission’s initiative aimed at expanding our knowledge through synergies among different research groups, each coordinated by a Principal Investigator with a significant scientific track record.
The PI Francesco Berna will become member of the Research Unit of Prehistory and Anthropology (Department of Physical, Earth, and Environmental Sciences) and he will lead research for the reconstruction of paleoenvironmental changes in over 30 archaeological sites in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and even further east, in Western and Central Asia, shedding light on the chain of events that led to the extinction of Neanderthals.
“To convincingly reconstruct the chain of events leading to the extinction of the Neanderthals, we need new and broader archaeological data,” explain Benazzi, Berna, and Barzilai. “The information we have gathered so far mainly comes from archaeological sites in Western and Central Europe: now we want to expand the research to Western and Central Asia and Eastern and Southeastern Europe“.
Before their sudden disappearance about 40,000 years ago, the Neanderthals survived for approximately 350,000 years across a vast territory stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to southern Siberia. However, today we know that the European archaeological sites where most of the Neanderthal artifacts have been found are located in peripheral areas compared to the regions where the last Neanderthals lived.
Expanding the investigations to archaeological sites in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and even further east to those in Western and Central Asia, the researchers of LAST NEANDERTHALS will therefore focus on the areas where interactions occurred between Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens.
This project is funded by European Union in the framework of Horizon Europe ERC Synergy grant