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article imageNew study says modern humans, not Ice Age, killed Neanderthals

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By JohnThomas Didymus     Jul 24, 2012 in Science
New evidence in the longstanding debate over what caused extinction of Neanderthals suggests that competition with early members of modern human species who migrated from Africa and not major climate changes caused extinction of Neanderthals.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by an international team of researchers led by Professor John Lowe of the Royal Holloway University of London, was based on evidence from volcanic deposits from the CI eruptions found in Greece, Libya and Central Europe. The study showed that the largest known volcanic eruptions in Europe, previously believed to have caused the extinction of Neanderthals, came after Neanderthal population had declined. According to the new research findings, harsh climatic conditions that followed the volcanic eruption in Europe about 40,000 years ago was not the major factor that led to extinction of our closest hominid relatives, but competition for scarce resources with early modern humans.
The researchers, studying the remnants of ash from the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption about 40 000 years ago in sites in Greece, the Aegean Sea, Libya, and four central European caves, concluded that: "The combined effects of a major volcanic eruption and severe climatic cooling failed to have lasting impacts on Neanderthals or early modern humans in Europe. We infer that modern humans proved a greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than natural disasters."
Early modern humans had a more advanced culture with better tools, weapons and communication skills and experts have always believed that Neanderthals were disadvantaged in the competition for scarce natural resources. But many experts maintained that climate and not humans was the major factor in the extinction of Neanderthals.
According to the proponents of the theory that climate caused extinction of Neanderthals, about 40,000 years ago, a massive volcanic eruption called the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption threw up clouds of ash into the atmosphere that blocked out the Sun. This caused a dramatic fall in temperature that led to the extinction of Neanderthals. Neanderthals had virtually disappeared from Europe by 30,000 years ago. A previous research by scientist at the Uppsala University had seemed to support the theory that Neanderthals did not go extinct because of competition with humans but that only a small band survived the climatic changes of the "volcanic winter." The findings, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, suggested that populations of Neanderthals were vulnerable to climate change. According to Live Science, lead researcher Dr. Love Dalen, said: "Even if the Neanderthals were capable of surviving periods of extreme cold, the game species they relied on likely could not, so their resource base would have been severely depleted."
Live Science reported that Neanderthals appear to have favored hunting woolly mammoths and other big game. Neanderthals were also big-brained, with the ability to make stone tools, construct garments, control fire and find shelter. Dalen had argued that the Neanderthals succumbed to harsh climatic conditions before they came in contact with humans who arrived later.
According to AFP, the latest research has helped to time the eruption even more accurately. Scientists now have evidence that the Neanderthal population in Europe had started declining long before the eruption and the severe climatic conditions that followed. There is also new evidence that early modern humans or Homo sapiens were widespread in Eastern Europe and North Africa than previously believed.
According to Lowe and his colleagues, both Neanderthals and early modern humans "seem to have been more resilient to environmental crises than previously supposed." The researchers said: "Neanderthal extinction in Europe was not associated with the CI eruption." The researchers, according to the Daily Mail, concluded that, "Our evidence indicates that, on a continental scale, modern humans were a greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than the largest known volcanic eruption in Europe, even if combined with the deleterious effects of climate cooling. We propose that small population numbers and high mobility may have initially saved the Neanderthals, but that they were ultimate out-performed in this capacity by AMHs (anatomically modern humans)."
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More about Neanderthals, Ice age, Humans
 
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