FUNDING INSTITUTIONNational Geographic Society, Level II
DURATIONMarch 2023 – April 2025

Project Description.

How were the Neanderthals different from us? And why did they go extinct?

Thanks to a grant funded by National Geographic, the project SHARP will address these questions by re-investigating the rockshelter site of Sesselfelsgrotte, located in SE Germany.

Previous research in the Swabian Jura (SW Germany) suggests that Neanderthals did not use caves intensively and were outplaced by H. sapiens by 43 Kcal BP. These interpretations contrast with findings from the nearby Altmühl Valley, where the rockshelter of Sesselfelsgrotte contains Neanderthal hearths, which are absent in Swabia. This site also exhibits a rich fossil record of 14 Neanderthal remains, including a potential infant burial, while Swabia yielded only one Neanderthal bone. Relative chronology of lithic assemblages tentatively marks the arrival of H. sapiens at this rockshelter around 35 Kcal BP, almost 8000 years later than in Swabia.

Do these dissimilarities reflect differences in forager behaviour, or in site preservation? Today, answering this question is impossible due to the lack of modern scientific studies from Sesselfelsgrotte.

Thanks to an international team of experts, SHARP will re-investigate the readily accessible profiles of this site with cutting-edge geoarchaeological and dating methods and re-assess its previously excavated archaeological, archeozoological, botanical, and paleoanthropological assemblages. SHARP will (1) determine if the Altmühl Valley served as a refugium for late Neanderthals, (2) investigate the cause of their richer record, (3) reconstruct late Neanderthal fire use, (4) explore the possibility of contact between late Neanderthals and early sapiens based on DNA analysis, and (5) test previous hypotheses on the arrival of H. sapiens in Central Europe.