The project recognizes three periods of possible cultural and biological interactions between Neanderthals and early modern humans: the Lower to Middle Paleolithic transition, the Middle Paleolithic and the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition.
The period of transition from the Lower to the Middle Paleolithic is exemplified by the cave complex of Balanica where we have strong evidence for cultural connections between the Balkans and the Levant in the period 300-200 ka BP. In Velika and Mala Balanica, characteristic Quina scrapers were found that fully correspond to the tools found in the Acheulo-Yabrudian complex in the Levant. In Balanica, as in the Levant, there is evidence of regular use of fire, and of hunting of fauna from the hilly and mountainous environments. The appearance of these elements in the Central Balkans indicates that population movements and/or cultural transmission from the Middle East occurred at the latest 300-200 ka BP.
The Middle Paleolithic (200-40 ka BP) represents the time of Neanderthal domination in Europe, but also the period of significant demographic crises and population shifts caused by cold climates. At the same time, by 170 to 110-90 ka BP modern humans were already strongly present in the Levant and possibly even earlier in Greece, posing questions about possible contacts between the two groups. An important question remains whether the Balkans palyed the role of Neanderthal refugium during the cold stages from which the North of the continent was repopulated in warmer phases.
We approach the study of interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans through the “push-pull” model, which has not yet been tested in the reconstruction of cultural and demographic changes in the earliest prehistory. The Central Balkans provide an ideal setting to test this model as the main natural communications are clearly limited by mountainous terrain and intersect several climatic zones: population shifts caused by climatic and/or social factors (competition between local and incoming communities) are expected to have left their mark in the archaeological record.
In order to resolve these issues, the team will conduct field research in two zones of potential interactions: in eastern Serbia (in the Danube basin) and in southern Serbia (in Pomoravlje and in the Nišava basin). These will be supplemented by paleoecological reconstructions and the analyzes of paleoanthropological and archeological materials recovered in previous excavations.
The project will include specialists in archeology, paleoanthropology, and allied disciplines (sediments, paleoenvironment, genetics and dating), who will undertake laboratory analyzes requiring specialized equipment: Prof. Mirjana Roksandic from the University of Winnipeg (paleoanthropology), Dr. Cosimo Posth from the University of Tubingen (paleogenetics), Prof. Norbert Mercier from the University of Bordeaux, Montaigne (TL, OSL dating), Dr. Mark Sier from the National Center for Investment in Human Evolution, Burgos (paleomagnetism), Dr. Susan M. Mentzer and Prof. Christopher E. Miller from the University of Tübingen (sedimentological analyzes) and Prof. Jose Carrion from the University of Murcia (palynological analyzes).