Grotte du Renne (France) : Ancient mystery solved, they were Neanderthals

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Using ancient protein and DNA analysis to uncover a watershed moment in the origin of modern humans, a study* finds support for a Neanderthal provenance of Châtelperronian stone tools and bone artifacts at the Grotte du Renne archeological site in north-central France. Modern humans are thought to have displaced Neanderthals around 50,000-40,000 years ago in Eurasia. To help settle a debate about this major transition in human evolution, Frido Welker and colleagues performed mass spectrometry analysis of specimens found at the archaeological site of the Grotte du Renne in Arcy-sur-cure, France. Some studies suggest that the Châtelperronian stone tools found at the site can be traced back to the Upper Paleolithic and were made by modern humans, whereas others trace the tools to the preceding transitional period marked by the continued presence of Neanderthals, largely based on morphological identification of hominin remains. The authors identified 28 additional hominin bone specimens at Grotte du Renne that likely belonged to a breastfed infant. Through ancient protein analysis, the authors determined that the hominin specimens belonged to Late Pleistocene Neanderthals, not anatomically modern humans. Direct radiocarbon dating of ancient collagen protein extracted from one of the specimens suggested that the specimen likely dated to the Châtelperronian at the site. The findings reaffirm the association of the Châtelperronian tool-kit and bone artifacts at Grotte du Renne with Neanderthals, according to the authors.

Source: PNAS press release.

*"Palaeoproteomic evidence identifies archaic hominins associated with the Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne," by Frido Welker et al., published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Grotte du renne

Fig. 1. Identification of damaged ancient proteins. (A) Deamidation values of bone ammonium-bicarbonate extracts for database samples and Arcy bone specimens analyzed using MALDI-TOF-MS. (B) Deamidation frequency based on spectral counts obtained through LC-MS/MS analysis. Cluster analysis provides three clusters (filled triangles, squares, and circles). Open circles represent proteins that have two or fewer spectral matches and were not included in cluster analysis. COL10α1 is indicated in pink; 0% indicates no deamidation and 100% indicates complete deamidation. (Inset) AR30 ppm error distribution by peptide mass for assigned spectra, with spectra matching to COL10α1 in red, open circles and those to COL10α1 128N in red, filled circles.