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Tue Jul 24, 2012, 01:43 PM

Did Modern Humans—Not Environmental Catastrophe—Extinguish the Neandertals?


The stocky, heavy-browed Neandertals ruled Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. And then, around 40,000 years ago, their population began to decline sharply; shortly after 28,000 years ago or so they were gone. In their place stood anatomically modern humans. Did the Neandertals die at the hands of the invading moderns? Did the moderns outcompete them? Or was catastrophic environmental change the culprit? Researchers have debated the nature of the Neandertals’ mysterious demise for decades.

In recent years scenarios implicating rapid swings in climate and/or a massive volcanic eruption in southern Italy some 40,000 years ago that ostensibly led to a volcanic winter have gained prominence. The idea is that these disastrous events pushed Neandertals out of vast areas of Europe, opening up these territories to moderns, or that the events fostered adaptive changes among moderns that enabled them to overtake the resident Neandertals. But a new study casts doubt on those environmental explanations and blames the downfall of our closest evolutionary cousins on modern humans instead.

John Lowe of the Royal Holloway University of London and his colleagues set out to test the theory that environmental change precipitated the decline of the Neandertals 40,000 years ago. They located microscopic layers of volcanic ash known as cryptotephra deposits from that mega eruption at a number of archaeological sites–including ones located well north and south of the Mediterranean–containing Neandertal and modern human remains. Having evidence of this well-dated event in all these places allowed the team to synchronize the archaeological and paleoclimatic records from the sites, eliminating some of the dating uncertainties that can hinder studies of cultural responses to environmental change.

The researchers studied the record of Neandertal and early modern human artifacts underlying (and thus predating) and overlying (and thus postdating) the ash from the Italian eruption, which occurred just after the start of a brutally cold and dry climate phase. They found that the transition to the more advanced technologies of the so-called Upper Paleolithic cultural traditions associated with modern humans began before the eruption. This indicated to the team that neither that blast nor the concurrent climate deterioration drove the cultural changes, the dispersals of moderns, or the regional extinction of Neandertals in northern and eastern Europe during this time, and that Neandertals were probably mostly gone long from these places before then. (The Neandertals managed to hang on in Iberia and possibly elsewhere for thousands of years longer though.)

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Reply Did Modern Humans—Not Environmental Catastrophe—Extinguish the Neandertals? (Original post)
xchrom Jul 2012 OP
TreasonousBastard Jul 2012 #1
Yo_Mama Aug 2012 #3
ohgeewhiz Jul 2012 #2

Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jul 24, 2012, 01:57 PM

1. Not surprised, considering the tendency of modern humans...

to dispose of anyone, or anything, in the way of settlement.

Considering that most life forms engage in territorial wars of some sort, I wouldn't be surprised if the Neanderthals initiated the battles when they saw the moderns coming, but just weren't good enough at it.

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Response to TreasonousBastard (Reply #1)

Mon Aug 20, 2012, 04:20 PM

3. It could have been as simple as diseases

But I doubt we'll ever know.

It could even have been as simple as a faster rate of breeding.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Fri Jul 27, 2012, 08:05 AM

2. Probably each and every scenario played out somewhere...


Somewhere the two groups fought and one died off from the fighting.

In other places starvation may have affected one group to the point of localized extinction.

In many other places, we now know, from DNA, that there was interbreeding, and all peoples NOT from Africa today have some Neanderthal DNA in them, so interbreeding happened widely, or at least before humankind moved far from where Neanderthals lived.

In other cases, resistance to disease of one sort or another may have had dramatic effects upon which group lived and which did not. Thus the interbreeding may have helped OUR group survive longer, survive better in colder climates, etc.

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