Charles Choi, LiveScience ContributorDate: 01 April 2013 Time: 08:19 AM ET

Entrance to Kalamakia cave in Greece where Neanderthal remains were found.
Map of Greece (left) showing the approximate position of Kalamakia cave (right, shown with excavated sediments) and other sites with human remains in the Mani peninsula.
CREDIT: Katerina Harvati et al.

A trove of Neanderthal fossils including bones of children and adults, discovered in a cave in Greece hints the area may have been a key crossroad for ancient humans, researchers say.

The timing of the fossils suggests Neanderthals and humans may have at least had the opportunity to interact, or cross paths, there, the researchers added.

Neanderthals are the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, apparently even occasionally interbreeding with our ancestors. Neanderthals entered Europe before modern humans did, and may have lasted there until about 35,000 years ago, although recent findings have called this date into question.

To learn more about the history of ancient humans, scientists have recently focused on Greece.

“Greece lies directly on the most likely route of dispersals of early modern humans and earlier hominins into Europe from Africa via the Near East,” paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati at the University of Tübingen in Germany told LiveScience. “It also lies at the heart of one of the three Mediterranean peninsulae of Europe, which acted as refugia for plant and animal species, including human populations, during glacial times — that is, areas where species and populations were able to survive during the worst climatic deteriorations.”

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