The Lagar Velho 1 Skeleton

In April 1999, the discovery of a human skeleton from Lagar Velho in Portugal was announced in the media, followed by a scientific paper a couple of months later (Duarte et al. 1999). The skeleton is of a young boy, about 4 years in age, who was deliberately buried about 24,500 years ago.

According to the paper's authors, which included Neandertal expert Erik Trinkaus, the skeleton contains a mixture of features from both modern humans and Neandertals, and is best explained as being a hybrid. And because it is dated to be at least 4,000 years more recent than the last known Neandertals, they consider it to be not the result of a direct interbreeding, but the descendant of a hybrid population which persisted for thousands of years. If true, this would strongly support the claim that Neandertals should be considered a subspecies of modern humans (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), rather than a separate species, Homo neanderthalensis.

The issue of Proc.Natl.Acad.Sci.USA in which the paper was published also contained a commentary on it by Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz (1999). These authors, who consider Neandertals to be a separate species, disputed the original interpretation and claimed the skeleton merely belonged to a "chunky" modern human child.

This disagreement turned into a heated debate.

The Tattersall and Schwartz commentary was not appreciated by the original authors, two of whom, Erik Trinkaus and João Zilhão, wrote a strongly worded rebuttal letter.

In return, Ian Tattersall has written a short letter responding to the accusations in the Trinkaus/Zilhão letter.


Duarte C., Mauricio J., Pettitt P.B., Souto P., Trinkaus E., van der Plicht H. et al. (1999): The early upper Paleolithic human skeleton from the Abrigo do Lagar Velho (Portugal) and modern human emergence in Iberia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 96:7604-9.

Tattersall I. and Schwartz J.H. (1999): Hominids and hybrids: the place of Neanderthals in human evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 96:7117-9.

Trinkaus E. and Zilhão J. (1999): A Correction to the Commentary of Tattersall and Schwartz Concerning the Interpretation of the Lagar Velho 1 Child


Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Lagar Velho 1 Human Skeleton

Fate of the Neandertals, from Archaeology

The Lagar Velho Child and the Fate of the Neanderthals, by João Zilhão

Erik Trinkaus' page on the Lagar Velho skeleton

This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive.

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