Neanderthal child
Some scientists have speculated that modern humans may have had something to do with the Neanderthal's demise. They say that during the ice age around 30,000 years ago Neanderthals were forced to move south and they and modern humans began competing for the same territory.

Maybe Neanderthals died as result of diseases introduced by modern humans the same way New World Indians died from diseases such as small pox introduced by European explorers and settlers. Or perhaps they were simply outhustled by the more adaptable modern humans. But if this were true why did the two species also interbreed (See Above). Other still have speculated that inbreeding with humans is what did them in.

Richard Klein, an anthropologist at Stanford University, has argued that advancements in the modern human brain, perhaps linked with language development, spurred a creativity burst that gave them an edge over Neanderthals. Neanderthals stayed at sites for long periods and didn't change sites that much during the year. Long occupations of the same area often leads to depletions of food sources. Homo sapiens , by contrast, appeared to have occupied sites following a more sophisticated plan in tune with the weather and migration patterns of animals.

Robin McKie wrote in The Guardian: “So what did kill off the Neanderthals? Given the speed at which they seem to have disappeared from the planet after modern humans spread out of Africa, it is likely that Homo sapiens played a critical role in their demise. That does not mean we chased them down and killed them – an unlikely scenario given their muscular physiques. However, we may have been more successful at competing for resources, as recent research has suggested. |=| [Source: Robin McKie, The Guardian, June 2, 2013]

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker: “Over the decades, many theories have been offered to explain what caused the demise of the Neanderthals, ranging from climate change to simple bad luck. In recent years, though, it’s become increasingly clear that, as Svante Pääbo put it to me, “their bad luck was us.” Again and again, the archeological evidence in Europe indicates, once modern humans showed up in a region where Neanderthals were living, the Neanderthals in that region vanished. Perhaps the Neanderthals were actively pursued, or perhaps they were just outcompeted. The Neanderthals’ “bad luck” is presumably the same misfortune that the hobbits and the Denisovans encountered, and similar to the tragedy suffered by the giant marsupials that once browsed Australia, and the varied megafauna that used to inhabit North America, and the moas that lived in New Zealand. And it is precisely the same bad luck that has brought so many species—including every one of the great apes—to the edge of oblivion today. [Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 15, 2011]

“To me, the mystery is not the extinction of the Neanderthals,” Jean-Jacques Hublin, the director of the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology’s department of human evolution, told the The New Yorker. “To me the mystery is what makes modern humans such a successful group that they have been replacing not just the Neanderthals but everything. We don’t have much evidence that the Neanderthals or other archaic humans ever led to an extinction of a species of mammal or anything else. For modern humans, there are hundreds of examples, and we do it very well.”

Websites and Resources on Neanderthals: Wikipedia: Neanderthals Wikipedia ; Neanderthals Study Guide ; Neandertals on Trial, from PBS; The Neanderthal Museum ; The Neanderthal Flute, by Bob Fink Websites and Resources on Prehistoric Art: Chauvet Cave Paintings ; Cave of Lascaux; Trust for African Rock Art (TARA); Bradshaw Foundation; Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, by Peter Brown

Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program ; Institute of Human Origins ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site ; Talk Origins Index ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Human Evolution Images; Hominin Species ; Paleoanthropology Links ; Britannica Human Evolution ; Human Evolution ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations ; Humin Origins Washington State University ; University of California Museum of Anthropology; BBC The evolution of man"; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) ; PBS Evolution: Humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog ; New Scientist: Human Evolution; Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization); The Leakey Foundation; The Stone Age Institute; The Bradshaw Foundation ; Turkana Basin Institute; Koobi Fora Research Project; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa ; Blombus Cave Project; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution; American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Evolutionary Anthropology; Comptes Rendus Palevol ; PaleoAnthropology

Fossil Teeth from Italy Suggest Humans Played Role in Neanderthal Extinction

Ancient teeth from Italy suggest that the arrival of modern humans in Western Europe coincided with the demise of Neanderthals there, researchers said, suggesting that modern humans may have had a direct or indirect role in the Neanderthal extinction. Charles Q. Choi of , Live Science wrote: “The Protoaurignacians, who first appeared in southern Europe about 42,000 years ago, could shed light on the entrance of modern humans into the region. This culture was known for its miniature blades and for simple ornaments made of shells and bones. [Source: Charles Q. Choi,, April 24, 2015 ^*^]

“Scientists had long viewed the Protoaurignacians as the precursors of the Aurignacians — modern humans named after the site of Aurignac in southern France who spread across Europe between about 35,000 and 45,000 years ago. Researchers had thought the Protoaurignacians reflected the westward spread of modern humans from the Near East — the part of Asia between the Mediterranean Sea and India that includes the Middle East. However, the classification of the Protoaurignacians as modern human or Neanderthal has long been uncertain. Fossils recovered from Protoaurignacian sites were not conclusively identified as either. ^*^

“Now scientists analyzing two 41,000-year-old teeth from two Protoaurignacian sites in Italy find that the fossils belonged to modern humans. "We finally have proof for the argument that says that modern humans were there when the Neanderthals went extinct in Europe," study lead author Stefano Benazzi, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Bologna in Ravenna, Italy, told Live Science. ^^ “The researchers investigated a lower incisor tooth from Riparo Bombrini, an excavation site in Italy, and found it had relatively thick enamel. Prior research suggested modern human teeth had thicker enamel than those of Neanderthals, perhaps because modern humans were healthier or developed more slowly. They also compared DNA from an upper incisor tooth found in another site in Italy — Grotta di Fumane — with that of 52 present-day modern humans, 10 ancient modern humans, a chimpanzee, 10 Neanderthals, two members of a recently discovered human lineage known as the Denisovans, and one member of an unknown kind of human lineage from Spain, and found that the Protoaurignacian DNA was modern human. "This research really could not have been done without the collaboration of researchers in many different scientific research fields — paleoanthropologists, molecular anthropologists, physical anthropologists, paleontologists and physicists working on dating the fossils," Benazzi said. ^^

Since the Protoaurignacians first appeared in Europe about 42,000 years ago and the Neanderthals disappeared from Europe between about 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, these new findings suggest that Protoaurignacians "caused, directly or indirectly, the demise of Neanderthals," Benazzi said. It remains unclear just how modern humans might have driven Neanderthals into extinction, Benazzi cautioned. Modern humans might have competed with Neanderthals, or they might simply have assimilated Neanderthals into their populations. Moreover, prior research suggests that Neanderthals in Europe might have been headed toward extinction before modern humans even arrived on the continent. Neanderthals apparently experienced a decline in genetic diversity about the time when modern humans began turning up in Europe.” ^*^

Dating Problems and Trying to Deduce Humans Involvement in Neanderthal Extinction

Homo-Neanderthal skull comparison
"A major problem in understanding what happened when modern humans appeared in Europe has concerned the dates for our arrival," Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London, told The Guardian. "It was once thought we appeared in Europe around 35,000 years ago and that we coexisted with Neanderthals for thousands of years after that. They may have hung on in pockets – including caves in Gibraltar – until 28,000 years ago, it was believed." [Source: Robin McKie, The Guardian, June 2, 2013]

Robin McKie wrote in The Guardian: “In other words, there was a long, gradual takeover by modern humans – an idea that is likely to be demolished at this week's conference, Stringer said. Results from the five-year research programme, Reset (Response of humans to abrupt environmental transitions), will show that modern humans arrived much earlier than previously estimated and that Neanderthals expired earlier than we thought. Careful dating of finds across Europe suggest Homo sapiens could have reached Europe 45,000 years ago. Five thousand years later, Neanderthals had largely disappeared. "Previous research on Neanderthal sites which suggested that they were more recent than 40,000 years old appears to be wrong," said Stringer. "That is a key finding that will be discussed at the conference." |=|

“Using radiocarbon technology to date remains that are 40,000 years old has always been tricky. Radioactive carbon decays relatively quickly and after 40,000 years there will only be a tiny amount left in a sample to measure. The tiniest piece of contaminant can then ruin dating efforts. However, scientists have set out to get round these problems. At Oxford University, scientists led by Tom Higham have developed new methods to remove contamination and have been able to make much more precise radiocarbon dating for this period. In addition, Reset researchers have used evidence of a devastating eruption of the Campi Flegrei volcano west of Naples 39,000 years ago.” |=|

Dietary Differences: Why Humans, Survived and Neanderthals Didn’t?

Neanderthal food

Ewen Callaway wrote in NewScienceLife: “Chemical signatures locked into bone suggest the Neanderthals got the bulk of their protein from large game, such as mammoths, bison and reindeer. The anatomically modern humans that were living alongside them had more diverse tastes. As well as big game, they also had a liking for smaller mammals, fish and seafood. “It seems modern humans had a much broader diet, in terms of using fish or aquatic birds, which Neanderthals didn’t seem to do,” says Michael Richards, a biological anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and the University of British Columbia in Canada.” [Source: Ewen Callaway, NewScienceLife, August 12, 2009]

“Dietary differences could have played a role in the extinction of Neanderthals roughly 24,000 years ago. “I personally think [Neanderthals] were out-competed by modern humans,” says Richards. “Modern humans moved in with different, more advanced technology and the ability to consume a wider variety of foods, and just replaced them.” He and colleague Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, compiled chemical measurements taken from bone collagen protein belonging to 13 Neanderthals and 13 modern humans, all recovered in Europe. They also added data collected from a 40,000-year-old human recovered in Romania’s Oase cave. **

““Flexibility may explain why modern humans thrived in ancient Europe while Neanderthals perished, says Hervé Bocherens, a biological anthropologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany. “If modern humans were hunting big game, like Neanderthals, they would compete with them and deplete the resources.” When big game were scarce, modern humans could have survived and even flourished by eating fish and smaller animals. Neanderthal populations, by contrast, probably shrank and eventually disappeared in areas from which their more limited meal options disappeared. **

Neanderthals Wiped Out by Diseases Introduced by Humans from Africa?

human food

Diseases and infections passed on by modern humans to Neanderthal when they moved out of Africa and into Europe may have helped wipe out the Neanderthals, who only had resistance to the diseases found in their European environment, not those introduced by the interlopers from Africa such as the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, the viruses that cause genital herpes, tapeworms and tuberculosis. Maev Kennedy wrote in The Guardian: “The impact on the Neanderthals was described as catastrophic by the scientists behind the new research, who published their findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The diseases and infections to which the hunter-gatherers were exposed would have made them less able to find enough food and remain healthy. The diseases would have spread through sexual contact between the two species. [Source: Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, April 10, 2016 |=| ]

“Researchers at Cambridge and Oxford Brookes Universities, who have been studying pathogen genomes and ancient DNA, now believe some infectious diseases are far older than had been believed. Dr Charlotte Houldcroft, from the division of biological anthropology at Cambridge, said: “Humans migrating out of Africa would have been a significant reservoir of tropical diseases. For the Neanderthal population of Eurasia, adapted to that geographical infectious disease environment, exposure to new pathogens carried out of Africa may have been catastrophic.” |=|

“Houldcroft, who also studies modern infections at Great Ormond Street hospital, said the result would not have been a swift decimation of native populations, as happened when Europeans arrived in the Americas in the 15th century. “It’s more likely that small bands of Neanderthals each had their own infection disasters, weakening the group and tipping the balance against survival,” she said.

“The researchers describe Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, as highly likely to have been passed by humans to Neanderthals. It is estimated to have first infected humans in Africa between 88,000 to 116,000 years ago, and in Europe 52,000 years ago. Herpes simplex 2, the virus that causes genital herpes, is another likely candidate. Evidence in the genome of the disease suggests it was transmitted to humans in Africa 1.6 million years ago from another, currently unknown hominin species that in turn acquired it from chimpanzees.” |=|

“Houldcroft and her colleague Simon Underdown of Oxford Brookes are challenging the view that the spread of infectious diseases exploded with the evolution of agriculture about 8,000 years ago, which saw denser and more settled human populations coexisting with livestock. Instead, they believe that many diseases traditionally thought to have been caught by humans from herd animals were actually in the human population far earlier, and passed from them to the animals. |=|

““Hunter-gatherers lived in small foraging groups. Neanderthals lived in groups of between 15 and 30 members, for example. So disease would have broken out sporadically, but would have been unable to spread very far. Once agriculture came along, these diseases had the perfect conditions to explode, but they were already around,” she said. |=|

Did a Wolf-Human Hunting Alliance Do In Neanderthals?

Professor Pat Shipman, a Pennsylvania State University anthropologist, theorizes that early dogs, bred from wolves, played a critical role in the modern human’s takeover of Europe 40,000 years ago and the downfall of the Neanderthal. “At that time, modern humans, Neanderthals and wolves were all top predators and competed to kill mammoths and other huge herbivores,” Shipman told The Guardian. “But then we formed an alliance with the wolf and that would have been the end for the Neanderthal.” [Source: Robin McKie, The Guardian, March 1, 2015]

Robin McKie wrote in The Guardian: “If Shipman is right, she will have solved one of evolution’s most intriguing mysteries. Modern humans are known to have evolved in Africa. They began to emigrate around 70,000 years ago, reaching Europe 25,000 years later. The continent was then dominated by our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals, who had lived there for more than 200,000 years. However, within a few thousand years of our arrival, they disappeared. |=|

“Modern humans formed an alliance with wolves soon after we entered Europe, argues Shipman. We tamed some and the dogs we bred from them were then used to chase prey and to drive off rival carnivores, including lions and leopards, that tried to steal the meat. “Early wolf-dogs would have tracked and harassed animals like elk and bison and would have hounded them until they tired,” said Shipman. “Then humans would have killed them with spears or bows and arrows. “This meant the dogs did not need to approach these large cornered animals to finish them off – often the most dangerous part of a hunt – while humans didn’t have to expend energy in tracking and wearing down prey. Dogs would have done that. Then we shared the meat. It was a win-win situation.” |=|

“At that time, the European landscape was dominated by mammoths, rhinos, bison and several other large herbivores. Both Neanderthals and modern humans hunted them with spears and possibly bows and arrows. It would have been a tricky business made worse by competition from lions, leopards, hyenas, and other carnivores, including wolves. “Even if you brought down a bison, within minutes other carnivores would have been lining up to attack you and steal your prey,” said Shipman. The answer, she argues, was the creation of the human-wolf alliance. Previously they separately hunted the same creatures, with mixed results. Once they joined forces, they dominated the food chain in prehistoric Europe – though this success came at a price for other species. First Neanderthals disappeared to be followed by lions, mammoths, hyenas and bison over the succeeding millennia. Humans and hunting dogs were, and still are, a deadly combination, says Shipman. |=|

“The idea is controversial, however, because it pushes back the origins of dog domestication so deeply into our past. Most scientists had previously argued the domestication of dogs, from tamed wolves, began with the rise of agriculture, 10,000 years ago, though other research has suggested it began earlier, around 15,000 years ago. But Shipman places it before the last Ice Age, pointing to recent discoveries of 33,000-year-old fossil remains of dogs in Siberia and Belgium. Although they look quite like wolves, the fossils also show clear signs of domestication: snouts that are shorter, jaws that are wider and teeth that are more crowded than those of a wild wolf. |=|

“Thus we began to change the wolf’s appearance and over the millennia turned them into all the breeds of dog we have today, from corgis to great Danes. Intriguingly, they may have changed our appearances as well, says Shipman, whose book, The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, will be published this month. Consider the whites of our eyes, she states. The wolf possesses white sclera as does Homo sapiens though, crucially, it is the only primate that has them. “The main advantage of having white sclera is that it is very easy to work out what another person is gazing at,” added Shipman. “It provides a very useful form of non-verbal communication and would have been of immense help to early hunters. They would been able to communicate silently but very effectively.” Thus the mutation conferring white sclera could have become increasingly common among modern humans 40,000 years ago and would have conferred an advantage on those who were hunting with dogs. |=|

“By contrast, there is no evidence of any kind that Neanderthals had any relationship with dogs and instead they appear to have continued to hunt mammoths and elks on their own, a punishing method for acquiring food. Already stressed by the arrival of modern humans in Europe, our alliance with wolves would have been the final straw for Neanderthals. Nor does the story stop in Europe, added Shipman. “I would see this as the beginning of the humans’ long invasion of the world. We took dogs with us wherever we went after our alliance formed in the palaeolithic. We took them to America and to the Pacific Islands. They made hunting easy and helped guard our food. It has been a very powerful alliance.” |=|

Did Advanced Weaponry Give Early Humans Edge over Neanderthals?

Discovery of sharpened stone blades up to 71,000 years old suggests humans leaving Africa were armed with advanced weapons and this may have played a role in the demise of the Neanderthals. The stone blades would have allowed early humans ancestors to attack Neanderthals — and other humans — from a greater distance and with more devastating effect, researchers say. [Source: Ian Sample, The Guardian, November 7, 2012 |=|]

Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian: “Early humans wandered out of Africa armed with darts and arrows that made them formidable hunters and deadly competitors for any Neanderthals that stood in their way. The revised version of the human story follows the discovery in South Africa of a haul of small stone blades or "bladelets" that formed lethal weapon tips, either for arrows fired from bows, or spears propelled from wooden throwers called atlatls. Researchers uncovered more than 70 sharp stone tips measuring no more than 5 centimeters long while excavating an eroded cliff face that overlooks the ocean at a site called Pinnacle Point on the south coast. |=|

“The development of the technology allowed early humans to attack wild animals or human foes from a greater distance and with more devastating effect. "People who possess light armaments that can be thrown long distances have immediate advantages in hunting prey and killing competitors," Curtis Marean, project director at Arizona State University, told the Guardian.

Neanderthal tools

“The blades were made from a rock called silcrete that must be heated in fire to transform it into a material that can be flaked into a sharp edge. Long, thin flakes of stone were notched and snapped to make smaller tips, and then blunted on one side so they could be fixed into lengths of wood or bone to make a spear or dart. Tests on the stone tools found at Pinnacle Point revealed they were made throughout a period lasting from 71,000 to 60,000 years ago, suggesting that one of the earliest arms industries was sustained by knowledge and expertise handed down from generation to generation. Details of the haul are reported in the journal Nature. To manufacture the projectile tips, early humans must have collected raw rock materials, gathered wood for burning, known how to heat-treat the silcrete, prepare and trim the blades, and finally attach them to arrows and spears. The ability to master these tasks and pass them down to others draws on brain functions that are essential to the modern mind. |=|

“Scientists have unearthed similar stone bladelets at other sites in South Africa and Kenya, but none so old or as enduring as those discovered at Pinnacle Point. The technology spread to other parts of Africa and Eurasia around 20,000 years later. Kyle Brown, a co-author on the paper from the University of Cape Town said the team spotted the minute but carefully made tools among the smallest material collected in sieves used at the excavation site. |=|

“Marean believes the combination of more advanced weapons and greater cooperative behaviour among the early humans was a "knockout punch" for the Neanderthals. "Combine them, as modern humans did, and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe," he said. "This probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction of many prey as well as our sister species such as the Neanderthals." In an accompanying article, Sally McBrearty, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut, notes that the preparation of the stone weapon tips must have taken "days, weeks or months" and been interrupted from time to time by more urgent tasks. This suggests the early human weapons-makers had the brain power to hold tasks and future plans in their memories. |=| “The invention of stone bladelets in south Africa may have defined the success of humans as they moved north to occupy the rest of the world. In the journal, Prof McBrearty writes: "Human populations are thought to have started migrating from Africa shortly after 100,000 years ago. If they were armed with the bow and arrow, they would have been more than a match for anything or anyone they met." |=|

Human Murder of a Neanderthal?

There is some circumstantial evidence that Neanderthals were murdered by modern humans. A skull and bones from El Sidron cave in Spain are marked by jagged edges, which Antonio Rosas of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid believes were made blows from stone tools of modern humans.

The skeleton of Neanderthal male found at Shanidar, who lived sometime between 50,000 and 75,000 years, had a broken rib that indicated he had been struck in rib and died of a collapsed lung one to three weeks later. Some researchers argued that this was evidence of a man being stabbed to death or being badly beaten up by another Neanderthal, but others say the wounds could just as easily been caused by an accident.

That is until Duke anthropologist Steven Churchill published a study in July 2009 that used modern forensic science and determined that the victim, known to scientists as Shanidar 3 after the Iraq site, was most likely killed by a thrown spear. What is perhaps even more remarkable about the finding is that at that time only humans had throwing spears, a technology that makes sense in open grassland of Africa, while Neanderthals used only thrusting spears.

In an experiment Churchill's team aimed to re-create the conditions of Shanidar 3's death using a crossbow, Stone Age projectiles and a pig carcass (pig skin and bones are thought to have the same toughness as Neanderthal skin and bones). When the projectiles were fired at a velocity consistent with that of a thrown spear the punctures left on the pig's ribs resembled those found on the Shanidar 3's ribs. By contrast when the ribs were stabbed with a thrusting spear Churchill found the ribs “were busted al to hell. The high kinetic energy cased a lot of damage on the area." In addition, the angle of entry of Shanidar 3's wound is “consistent with the ballistic trajectory of a thrown weapon."

This isn't the only evidence of the murder of Neanderthals by humans. A skull and bones from El Sidron cave in Spain were found with jagged edges, which Antonio Rosas of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid believes were made by blows from stone tools of modern humans. A Neanderthal jawbone found by French anthropologist Fernando Rozzi bore butchering marks like those found on deer carcasses butchered by humans. He says that humans probably removed and ate the Neanderthal tongue and used the teeth for decorative ornaments.

human tools

Neanderthals Crowded Out by Humans?

In 2011, AP reported: “Were the Neanderthals simply crowded out by the ancestors of modern humans? That's the theory of a pair of British researchers, who say early modern humans outnumbered Neanderthals by 10-to-1 in a region of southwestern France they studied. [Source: AP, July 28, 2011]

In the report, in the journal Science, Paul Mellars and Jennifer C. French of Cambridge University contend that "numerical supremacy alone may have been a critical factor" in human dominance. They conducted a statistical analysis of archaeological finds in France's Perigord region, and concluded that stone tools and animal food remains showing evidence of modern humans indicate a much larger population than of Neanderthals in the region. That, they said, would undermine the ability of the Neanderthals to compete for food and other necessities.

Paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, commented that he had argued two years ago that evidence that early humans used more resources and engaged in more intensive labor probably indicated a larger population density. In addition, Trinkaus challenged the data in the new report, commenting that the idea of using the number of human gathering sites and their size, tool counts, and other pieces of evidence "pooled together over millennia to estimate relative population sizes was long ago rejected by archaeologists."

Trinkaus said the number of human sites has little, if anything, to do with how many people were around. "For example, a highly mobile group of hunter-gatherers will leave vastly fewer, if any, recognizable sites than one that stayed put for major periods of the year and accumulated trash in one place," he said.

Several experts agreed the conclusion of the paper wasn't new. Christopher Ramsey of the School of Archaeology at England's University of Oxford said it provided "more quantitative evidence for what many already thought to be the case — that is that modern humans simply replaced Neanderthals by gaining higher population densities." And Joao Zilhao, a research professor at the University of Barcelona, argued that the methods used to estimate the population were outdated. He said modern humans didn't simply replace Neanderthals anyway, "as the overwhelming genetic and paleontological evidence shows what happened was assimilation, not replacement."

Humans, Ecological Muddle and Neanderthal Extinction

Jon Mooallemjan wrote in the New York Times magazine: “Some paleoanthropologists are starting to reimagine the extinction of Neanderthals as” something “prosaic: not the culmination of some epic clash of civilizations but an aggregate result of a long, ecological muddle. Strictly speaking, extinction is what happens after a species fails to maintain a higher proportion of births to deaths — it’s a numbers game. And so the real competition between Neanderthals and early modern humans wasn’t localized quarrels for food or territory but a quiet, millenniums-long demographic marathon: each species repopulating itself, until one fell so far behind that it vanished. And we had a big head start. “When modern humans came,” notes Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at Britain’s Natural History Museum, “there just weren’t that many Neanderthals around.” [Source: Jon Mooallemjan, New York Times magazine, January 11, 2017 ||*||]

“For millenniums, some scientists believe, before modern humans poured in from Africa, the climate in Europe was exceptionally unstable. The landscape kept flipping between temperate forest and cold, treeless steppe. The fauna that Neanderthals subsisted on kept migrating away, faster than they could. Though Neanderthals survived this turbulence, they were never able to build up their numbers. (Across all of Eurasia, at any point in history, says John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “there probably weren’t enough of them to fill an N.F.L. stadium.”) With the demographics so skewed, Stringer went on, even the slightest modern human advantage would be amplified tremendously: a single innovation, something like sewing needles, might protect just enough babies from the elements to lower the infant mortality rate and allow modern humans to conclusively overtake the Neanderthals. And yet Stringer is careful not to conflate innovation with superior intelligence. Innovation, too, can be a function of population size. “We live in an age where information, where good ideas, spread like wildfire, and we build on them,” Stringer told me. “But it wasn’t like that 50,000 years ago.” The more members your species has, the more likely one member will stumble on a useful new technology — and that, once stumbled upon, the innovation will spread; you need sufficient human tinder for those sparks of culture to catch. ||*||

““There was nothing inevitable about modern human success,” Stringer says. “It was luck.” We didn’t defeat the Neanderthals; we just swamped them. Trinkaus compares it to how European wildcats are currently disappearing, absorbed into much larger populations of house cats gone feral. It wasn’t a flattering analogy — we are the house cats — but that was Trinkaus’s point: “I think a lot of this is basically banal,” he says. ||*||

Neanderthals on the Verge of Extinction Even Before the Arrival of Modern Humans?

According to Uppsala University: “Findings from an international team of researchers show that most neandertals in Europe died off around 50,000 years ago. The previously held view of a Europe populated by a stable neandertal population for hundreds of thousands of years up until modern humans arrived must therefore be revised. [Source: Uppsala University, February 25, 2012 /*/]

“This new perspective on the neandertals comes from a study of ancient DNA published today in Molecular Biology and Evolution. The results indicate that most neandertals in Europe died off as early as 50,000 years ago. After that, a small group of neandertals recolonised central and western Europe, where they survived for another 10,000 years before modern humans entered the picture. The study is the result of an international project led by Swedish and Spanish researchers in Uppsala, Stockholm and Madrid. "The fact that neandertals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us. This indicates that the neandertals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought", says Love Dalén, associate professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. /*/

“In connection with work on DNA from neandertal fossils in northern Spain, the researchers noted that the genetic variation among European neandertals was extremely limited during the last ten thousand years before the neandertals disappeared. Older European neandertal fossils, as well as fossils from Asia, had much greater genetic variation, on par with the amount of variation that might be expected from a species that had been abundant in an area for a long period of time. "The amount of genetic variation in geologically older neandertals as well as in Asian neandertals was just as great as in modern humans as a species, whereas the variation among later European neandertals was not even as high as that of modern humans in Iceland", says Anders Götherström, associate professor at Uppsala University. /*/

“The results presented in the study are based entirely on severely degraded DNA, and the analyses have therefore required both advanced laboratory and computational methods. The research team has involved experts from a number of countries, including statisticians, experts on modern DNA sequencing and paleoanthropologists from Denmark, Spain and the US. Only when all members of the international research team had reviewed the findings could they feel certain that the available genetic data actually reveals an important and previously unknown part of neandertal history. "This type of interdisciplinary study is extremely valuable in advancing research about our evolutionary history. DNA from prehistoric people has led to a number of unexpected findings in recent years, and it will be really exciting to see what further discoveries are made in the coming years", says Juan Luis Arsuaga, professor of human paleontology at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid.” /*/

Were Neanderthals Absorbed Rather Than Wiped Out?

Marlowe Hood of AFP wrote: “About two percent of DNA in non-Africans across the globe today originate with Neanderthals, earlier studies have shown. Denisovan remnants are also widespread, though less evenly. "We find traces of Denisovan DNA — less than one percent — everwhere in Asia and among native Americans," said Paabo. "Aboriginal Australians and people in Papua New Guinea have about five percent." [Source: Marlowe Hood, AFP, August 23, 2018 \=/]

“Taken together, these facts support a novel answer to the hotly debated question of why Neanderthals — which had successfully spread across parts of western and central Europe — disappeared some 40,000 years ago. Up to now, their mysterious demise has been blamed on disease, climate change, genocide at the hands of Homo sapiens, or some combination of the above. \=/

“But what if our species — arriving in waves from Africa — overwhelmed Neanderthals, and perhaps Denisovans, with affection rather than aggression? "Part of the story of these groups is that they may simply have been absorbed by modern populations," said Paabo. "The modern humans were more numerous, and the other species might have been incorporated." \=/

“Recent research showing that Neanderthals were not, in fact, knuckle-dragging brutes makes this scenario all the more plausible. Our genetic cousins executed sophisticated hunting strategies in groups; made fires, tools, clothing and jewellery; and buried their dead with symbolic ornaments. They painted animal frescos on cave walls at least 64,000 years ago, well before most Homo sapiens arrived in Europe. Far less is known about Denisovans, but they may have suffered a similar fate.” \=/

Gorham’s Cave After the Neanderthals Left

Gorham’s Cave was rediscovered in 1907. Of the total 18 meters of archaeological deposits in the cave, the top 2 meters include Phoenician-Carthaginian (800-300 B.C.) and Neolithic occupations. The remaining 16 meters include Solutrean and Magdalenian deposits and a level of Mousterian stone tools, representing a Neanderthal occupation between 38,000-30,000 years ago. Beneath is a layer of a much earlier occupation dating to 47,000 years ago. [Source:, Sep 24, 2014]

Jon Mooallemjan wrote in the New York Times magazine: “After the Neanderthal artifacts disappear from Gorham’s sediment layers, there’s a gap of many thousand years — a thick stack of empty sand. Then other artifacts appear: Modern humans occupied the cave and built a fire here, too, just a couple of feet from the Neanderthals’ hearth. They used the bedroom annex as well. They left a cave painting on the wall in there: a gorgeous red stag, indisputably recognizable to us — their descendants — as art. [Source: Jon Mooallemjan, New York Times magazine, January 11, 2017 ||*||]

“Another 18,000 years passed, give or take. The Phoenicians came. And they left offerings back here; there were shards of their ceramics under the catwalk we had just crossed. Then, 2,000 years after that, in 1907, a certain Captain A. Gorham of Britain’s Second Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers arrived. Gorham didn’t discover Gorham’s Cave, Finlayson told me; it had always been impossible to miss. “That’s what he found,” Finlayson said. “That’s really Gorham’s Cave.” He pointed to the bedroom, and we both turned, bathing it with our headlamps. Beside the entrance was written, in big block letters, GORHAM’S CAVE 1907, with a chunky black arrow pointing to the doorway. Gorham had written his name directly over the spot where, some 39,000 years earlier, a Neanderthal had made his or her own mark. ||*||

Neanderthal Clones?

Paul Jongko wrote in Listverse: “Neanderthals have been extinct for thousands of years now, but in the near future, there is a big possibility that they might return and coexist with us. This radical idea, as crazy as it might sound, is possible thanks to cloning. Scientists have already been successful in cloning certain animal species such as cows, pigs, rats, dogs, and cats. In 2003, they achieved a monumental biological feat when they cloned the Pyrenean ibex, an extinct species of wild mountain goat. Unfortunately, the clone died after several minutes. [Source: Paul Jongko, Listverse, May 14, 2016 ]

“The primary technique used by scientists in cloning animals is called nuclear transfer and involves the “intact cell (fresh or frozen)” of the animal that is to be cloned. In the case of the Neanderthals, no intact cells exist, and it would take a lot of extracting from 40,000-year-old bones to piece enough DNA fragments together to decode their genome.

“In 2012, Harvard geneticist George Church suggested a cloning method that doesn’t involve intact cells. In his book Regenesis, Church proposed the use of healthy cells from some closely related species. For Neanderthals, the healthy cells it would require would come from modern humans. Once extracted, scientists could genetically engineer the DNA in the human cell to match the genome code of the Neanderthal . . . and cloning can begin. Though resurrecting the Neanderthals is possible, it probably won’t happen within the next decade or so. The approach needed to accomplish this feat has not been perfected, and the process is risky, expensive, and arduous.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFPand various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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