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Contacts and interactions in Europe 40,000 years ago

Neandertalegacy project - The genetic material of currently living Europeans is partly of Neandertal origin. Were our ancestors successful because they were hybridising and interacting with the local populations they encountered when migrating into new places? Using interdisciplinary archaeology and with funding from the Dutch Research council (VICI and Westerdijk awards), M. Soressi and her team investigate interactions between Neandertals and early modern humans 40,000 year ago. Reconstructing our evolutionary trajectory is key for rethinking who we are, and how we are connected to each other.

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We study all preserved artefact types because different domains of material culture, such as personal ornaments or domestic tools, are known in the ethnographic record to react differently to cultural interactions. Changes in one part of the technological system often imply changes in other parts.


We select a diversity of archaeological contexts in Europe where fauna and ornaments are preserved. Because the frequency of cultural interaction appears to be low, we start from sites where interaction scenarios have been previously hypothesised, but remain unverified.



Sedimentary aDNA is a revolutionary technique which enables the retrieval of DNA, including human, directly from sediment. In the NL project, we perform – in collaboration with the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig - systematic, large-scale screening of sediment samples to better understand who was living where and when.



To reconstruct site formation processes, we use a holistic geoarchaeological approach focusing not only on the sedimentary record, but also on the embedded artefacts.



Radiometric dating is done on both sediment (OSL) and artefacts (C14) to verify the reliability of the results by evaluating the compatibility of the ages obtained with these different techniques. C14 being more precise and directly dating objects but – for the time range here - extremely sensitive to contamination, meanwhile OSL provides us with ages for sterile sediment.



The curation, storage, and management of archaeological material recovered from excavations should not be an afterthought. We are always on the search for innovative ways to secure the 'legacy' of excavated material for the future - both physically and digitally.

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"Where we come from and what makes us human are questions identified by the public as the main goals of archaeology. The approach taken here will provide an original and powerful framework to discuss the complexity of the human condition. The success of our species has long been equated to a kind of intrinsic “superiority”. Neanderthals tend to be seen as an evolutionary dead-end rather than as a contributor to our deep history, as current evidence is revealing. In a time of tensions to do with nationalism, the exploration of our deeply multi-layered identity has rarely been more relevant. Knowing what we inherited from Neandertals fosters the rethinking of our identity, with a myriad of different layers superimposed over our genetic identity. The exploration of our evolutionary past will highlight what unifies current human populations.

Realizing the evolutionary continuity between extant and extinct humans  helps us to understand how humankind is connected to the whole of living beings. The distinction between nature and culture appears less straightforward, an important matter when defining our current moral obligations toward other species. Further, rethinking the demise of ancient human populations highlights the often-overlooked fragility of human populations."

Marie Soressi 2019



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Current funding

  • The Neandertal Legacy Project is founded by VICI (VI.C.191.O70) NWO funding awarded to M. Soressi.

  • NWO Westerdijk award to M. Soressi

  • Service régional de l’Archéologie, Bordeaux, France awards funding and excavation permits for the project excavations in France

Previous funding 

  • Max Planck Institute EVA, Dept. of human evolution, and his then director J.J Hublin.

  • Fyssen foundation

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