A 40,000-YEAR-OLD tooth has provided scientists with the first direct evidence that Neanderthals moved from place to place during their lifetimes.
The team used laser technology to collect microscopic particles of enamel from the tooth.
By analysing strontium isotope ratios in the enamel – strontium is a naturally occurring metal ingested into the body through food and water – the scientists were able to uncover geological information showing where the Neanderthal had been living when the tooth was formed.
The tooth, a third molar, began to grow when the Neanderthal was aged between seven and nine.
It was recovered in a coastal limestone cave in Lakonis, in southern Greece, during an excavation. However, the strontium readings indicated the enamel formed while the Neanderthal lived in a region made up of older volcanic bedrock.
The findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, could help answer a long-standing debate about the mobility of the now extinct Neanderthal species.
Some experts believe Neanderthals stayed in one small area for most of their lives, others say their movements were more substantial and they travelled over long-distances, while another suggestion is they only moved within a limited area, perhaps following a seasonal routine to enable them to access different food sources.
The project involved researchers from Durham University, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Greek Ministry of Culture.