Scientists using a "more reliable" form of radiocarbon dating have re-assessed fossils from the region and found them to be far older than anyone thought. The work appears in the journal PNAS.
Its results have implications for when and where we - modern humans - might have co-existed with our evolutionary "cousins", the Neanderthals.
"The picture emerging is of an overlapping period [in Europe] that could be of the order of perhaps 3,000-4,000 years - a period over which we have a mosaic of modern humans being present and then Neanderthals slowly ebbing away, and finally becoming extinct," explained co-author Prof Thomas Higham from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford, UK.
"What our research contributes is that in southern Spain, Neanderthals don't hang on for another 4,000 years compared with the rest of Europe. And the hunch must be that they go extinct in the south of Spain at the same time as everywhere else," he told BBC News.
Though once thought to have been our ancestors, the Neanderthals are now considered an evolutionary dead end.
They first appear in the fossil record hundreds of thousand of years ago and, at their peak, dominated a wide range, spanning Britain and Iberia in the west to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east. Our own species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa, and displaced the Neanderthals after entering Europe somewhere around the 45,000-year mark.
No-one can say for sure what, if any, active role modern humans had in the decline of Europe's Neanderthals.
What is clear though is that some mixing must have occurred somewhere at some point. This is evident from DNA studies that prove Neanderthals made a small but significant contribution to the genetics of many modern humans.
However, scientists think this interbreeding could have occurred outside Europe, in the eastern Mediterranean or Middle East region (the area archaeologists call the "Levant"), and quite probably even deeper in time - some 80,000-90,000 years or so ago.