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“Vindija Cave (Croatia): Late Neandertals in South-Central Europe” By Fred Smith (Loyola University)

2 min read

The second part of Dr. Fred Smith’s talk was a specialized seminar about his work in Vindija Cave. During this seminar, Dr. Smith used his morphological research and studies of Neandertal morphological diversity to support his Assimilation Model. Recently, the academic world decided that Neandertals went extinct by hybridization (also known as assimilation…). This seminar was indeed specialized: I learned I know practically nothing about human anatomy (and even less about Neandertal anatomy) but managed to understand bits and pieces.

The most famous Neandertal sites are in Hrvatsko Zafgorje, in northern Croatia close to the Slovenian border. Some sites in this area include Mujine Pećina a little Mousterian cave, Bukovak Pećina which had a calcium carbonate layer with bone points and bone “flutes”, and the caves Velika Pećina and Mala Pećina that had Mousterian lithics dating back 39,000 years ago. There is ongoing research in Croatia today searching for Paleolithic sites.

Krapina is a Mousterian cave where geologist Greyonovich kept careful records of most artifact levels. This is significant because these excavations occurred from 1899-1901. There were nine layers of cultural remains: layer 8 had fossil humans remains and layers 3-4 had Homo sapien remains. The Neandertals discovered were referred to as Homo primi genius. Greyonovich firmly believed that Neandertals gave rise to modern humans: out of the 1,300 Neandertal bones found at the site, there were at least 40 individuals. Krapina is the last known interglacial site – 130,000 years ago.

Vindija Cave overlooks a valley with two rivers. The original excavator, Meerco, mined this cave for fossils (which he found) but ruined a lot of the data since hardly anything was accurate. In Vindija Cave, it seems that Neandertals began developing chins and their faces shrunk. I understood this to mean Neandertals were indeed changing morphologically when Homo sapiens arrived. Genes only flowed one way though, and since our human ancestors were rare on the European landscape to begin with, they disappeared rather rapidly (or were assimilated) after modern human migration waves entered their territory.

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