Last Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens occupations in the Bawa Yawan Rockshelter, Kermanshah, West-Central Zagros Mountains (Iran)

The fate of Neanderthals and their replacement by anatomically modern humans (AMH) became of greatest interest among paleoanthropologists and archaeologists. Recent palaeogenetics analyses have proved that AMH interbred with ancient humans including Neandertals and Denisovans. Genetic studies associated with Palaeolithic researches indicate that last contacts between AMH and Neanderthals have occurred in western Eurasia during Late Pleistocene (MIS 3). A recent re-dating analysis of 40 sites shows that the end of Mousterian technology and most probably the disappearance of Neanderthals are not limited to specific areas, but occurred in a period between 41–39 kya in different places across Western Eurasia. Researches also suggest that a combination of climatic changes and competitive condition with AMHs extirpated Neanderthals. A key area that was outside of modern research methods for a long time, is the Zagros Mountains. During recent years the applicant has started a project in the region of Kermanshah in the West-Central Zagros Mountains, which aims to track the transitional period between Middle (MP) to Upper Palaeolithic (UP). The new research resulted into the discovery of more than 260 caves, rockshelters and open-air sites associated with MP, UP and Epipalaeolithic occupations in an area of around 150 to 100 km.

In the second phase of the research a test excavation in Bawa Yawan Rockshelter in the Kermanshah Region was conducted. Two seasons of excavation in this site resulted into:

  1. a) the discovery of a sequence of three archaeological techno-complexes namely MP, UP and Epipalaeolithic imbedded in six geological horizons (GH),
    b) the recovery of a Neanderthal tooth,
    c) revealing a transitional layer with MP and UP lithic artefacts,
    d) a few charcoal samples around the tooth in GH5 were dated between 40 to 45 kya, indicating a late Neanderthal occupation in the area. These preliminary results in Bawa Yawan show its high potential for further research in respect of Neanderthal’s fate and replacement process by AMH population in one of the key areas in Western Asia. The proposed project will use multidisciplinary approaches including modern excavation methods, ultrafiltration AMS radiocarbon dating, U-series and OSL, site formation processes, intra-site spatial analyses, analysis of lithic artefacts and faunal.

These disciplines are necessary to answer the following questions:

  • How is the chronological sequence of the archaeological deposits in Bawa Yawan?
  • Is the presence of MP and UP lithic artefacts in GH2 the result of using the site by two different hominin groups simultaneously or in different seasons by different populations?
  • Do the GHs in Bawa Yawan fit into the continental climatic change model based on the world-wide records or was the study area affected by local climatic condition? 
  • Is the Neanderthal tooth a single find or are there more hominin skeletal remains awaiting to be discovered in an extended excavation?


contact person:

Dr. Saman Heydari-Guran