Vindija is a cave located in northern Croatia, known for being the site of one of the best preserved remains of Neanderthals fossils in the world, found in 1974. It is estimated that Neanderthals lived there about 45,000-32,000 years ago. One of these Neanderthals was selected as primary source of DNA for the Neanderthal genome project. Vindija Cave is a stratified paleontological and archaeological site in Croatia, which has several occupations associated with both Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (AMH).
Vindija includes a total of 13 levels dated between 150,000 years ago and the present, spanning the upper part of the Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic periods. Several of the levels are without hominin remains, or have been disturbed primarily through cryoturbations ice wedging, there are some stratigraphically separated hominin levels at Vindija Cave associated with humans and Neanderthals.
The earliest recognized hominid occupations date to ca. 45,000 bp, deposits at Vindija include strata that comprise a huge number of animal bones, including tens of thousands of specimens, 90% of which are cave bears, over a period of more than 150,000 years. This record of animals in the region has been used to establish data about the climate and habitat of northwest Croatia during that period. The site was first excavated in the first half of the 20th century, and more extensively excavated between 1974 and 1986 by Mirko Malez of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. There are numerous archaeological and faunal remains with over 100 hominin discoveries that have been found at Vindija Cave.
- Specimens in Level G3 (38,000-45,000 years bp), the lowest hominin-bearing level, are Neanderthals and are associated with exclusively Mousterian artifacts.
- Specimens in Level G1 (32,000-34,000 years bp) represent the most recent Neanderthals at the site and are associated with both Mousterian and Upper Paleolithic stone tools.
- Hominins in Level F (31,000-28,000 years bp) are associated with Aurignacian and according to researchers look a little like both AMH and Neanderthal.
- Hominins in Level D (less than 18,500 years bp, the uppermost hominid-bearing strata in the cave, are associated with Gravettian culture artifacts, and represent only anatomically modern humans.
Vindija Cave and mtDNA
In 2008, researchers reported that a complete mtDNA sequence had been retrieved from a thigh bone of one of the Neanderthals recovered from Vindija Cave. The bone (called Vi-80) comes from level G3, and it was direct-dated to 38,310 ± 2,130 RCYBP. Their research suggests that the two hominins who occupied Vindija Cave at different times—early modern Homo sapiens and Neanderthals—were clearly separate species.
Lalueza-Fox and colleagues have discovered similar DNA sequences—fragments of sequences, that is—in Neanderthals from Feldhofer Cave (Germany) and El Sidrón (northern Spain), suggesting a common demographic history among groups in eastern Europe and the Iberian peninsula.
In 2010, the Neanderthal Genome Project announced that it had finished a complete DNA sequence of Neanderthal genes, and discovered that between 1 and 4 percent of the genes that modern humans carry around with them come from Neanderthals, directly contradicting their own conclusions just two years ago. A recent study reported in Quaternary International (Miracle et al. listed below) describes the climate data recovered from Vindija Cave, and Veternica and Velika Pećina, two other caves in Croatia. The fauna indicate that during the period between 60,000 and 16,000 years ago, the region had a moderate, broadly temperate climate with a range of environments. In particular, there seems to have been no significant evidence for what was thought to be a shift to cooler conditions at the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 27,000 years before present.
Morphologically different Neanderthals
The hominid specimens at level 3G are regarded as unquestionably Neanderthal in overall morphology but exhibit a number of traits that sit closer to anatomically modern Europeans than to the traditional Neanderthal. These include a thinner and less projecting brow ridge, reduced facial size, and narrower front teeth. Though some have put these differences down to the small size of the Vindija individuals, a study conducted in 1995 established that the Vindija Neanderthals, though small, were of comparable size to more morphologically classic Neanderthals such as La Ferassie 2, Shanidar 1 and 4, and Tabun 1. More likely, the Vindija Neanderthals were in transition from the classic robust form to a more gracile one.
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- "Scientists Decode Majority of Neanderthal Man's Genome". dw-world.de (Deutsche Welle). 13 February 2009. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
- Walpoff, Milford H.; Smith, Fred H.; Malez, Mirko; Radovčić, Jakov; Rukavina, Darko (1981). "Upper Pleistocene Remains from Vindija Cave, Croatia, Yugoslavia". American Journal of Physical Anthropology 54: 499–545. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330540407.
- Trinkaus, Erik; Smith (1995). "Body Size of the Vindija Neanderthals". Journal of Human Evolution 28: 201–208. doi:10.1006/jhev.1995.1015.
- Marina Biluš (11 September 2007). "Tajne evolucije iz špilje Vindije" [Secrets of evolution from the Vindija Cave]. Nacional (in Croatian). Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Špilja Vindija (Croatian)
- on YouTube
- Dekodiran DNK neandertalca iz špilje Vindija (Croatian)