A milk tooth found in the vicinity of Riparo del Broion on the Berici Hills in the Veneto region bears evidence of one of the last Neanderthals in Italy, according to researchers from the universities of Bologna and Ferrara. The small upper canine tooth, which belonged to an 11- or 12-year-old child who had lived in that area between 45,000 and 48,000 years ago, is the most recent Neanderthal finding in Northern Italy and one of the latest in the peninsula.
“This work stems from the synergy between different disciplines and specializations,” said Matteo Romandini, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Bologna.
“High-resolution prehistoric field archaeology allowed us to find the tooth. Then we employed virtual approaches to the analyses of its shape, genome, taphonomy, and of its radiometric profile. Following this process, we could identify this tooth as belonging to a child that was one of the last Neanderthals in Italy,” Romandini said.
The genetic analysis revealed that the owner of the tooth found in Veneto was a relative, on their mother’s side, of Neanderthals that had lived in Belgium. This makes the site in Veneto a key area for comprehending the gradual extinction of Neanderthals in Europe, the researchers said.
“This small tooth is extremely important,” said Stefano Benazzi, professor at the University of Bologna and research coordinator. “This is even more relevant if we consider that, when this child who lived in Veneto lost their tooth, Homo Sapiens communities were already present a thousand kilometers away in Bulgaria.”
The findings retrieved from Riparo del Broion are still being analyzed, but preliminary results indicate that the site had been used by Neanderthals for a long time, as there were signs of hunting activities and butchering of large prey.
“The manufacturing of tools, mainly made of flint, shows Neanderthals’ great adaptability and their systematic and specialized exploitation of the raw materials available in the area,” said Marco Peresanti, a professor with the University of Ferrara and member of the research team.
The study was part of the ERC SUCCESS project, led by Benazzi, which focuses on the biocultural changes that happened in Italy during the transition between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. It aims to understand when Home Sapiens reached Southern Europe, the processes favoring their adaptive success, and the causes leading to Neanderthals’ extinction.