Neanderthals May Have Been Destroyed By Climate, Not Homo Sapiens

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Hermann Schaaffhausen (1888).

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Hermann Schaaffhausen (1888).

In Graham Hancock’s new book, Entangled, one of the intriguing themes is the so-called “Neanderthal Enigma.” But, while much of the latest research on Homo neanderthalensis is reflected in Entangled, a new study reported in the New York Times suggests that this extinct member of the Homo genus may have met its demise from climate change, not from Homo sapiens:

Homo sapiens may not have pushed Neanderthals to extinction, as some scientists have hypothesized; it may have been the weather that did them in.

Volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago devastated Neanderthals in Western Asia and in Europe, anthropologists report in Current Anthropology.

Naomi Cleghorn, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, and colleagues studied a Neanderthal site in the Caucasus Mountains of southwestern Russia. They were able to identify volcanic ash from two separate eruptions that occurred in the area between 45,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Recently, a separate study found that there was another large volcanic eruption in Italy 40,000 years ago, in an area also occupied at the time by Neanderthals. At the time, our own species was primarily in Africa and southern Europe, areas less affected by the eruptions. Neanderthals were concentrated in Asia and Europe.

“Early modern humans, if any of them were on the affected landscape, had a replenishment population elsewhere,” she said.

About 2,000 years after the volcanic events (though the exact dates are unclear), humans appear to have moved into parts of Europe previously occupied by Neanderthals, the anthropologists say. “We would like people to look more carefully at other Neanderthal sites and to look more carefully for events like this,” Dr. Cleghorn said.

Based on what scientists currently know, a weather-related demise is more likely than a loss in a battle of the wits between Neanderthals and humans, she said…

[continues in the New York Times]

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