Competition with Cro-Magnons may have led to Neanderthal extinction

December 30th, 2008 - 12:41 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 30 (ANI): In a new study, a multidisciplinary French-American research team has determined that Neanderthal extinction was principally a result of competition with Cro-Magnon populations, rather than the consequences of climate change.

The study was conducted by researchers from the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, lEcole Pratique dHautes Etudes, and the University of Kansas, US.

The study figures in the ongoing debate on the reasons behind the eventual disappearance of Neanderthal populations, which occupied Europe prior to the arrival of human populations like us around 40,000 years ago.

The researchers reached their conclusion by reconstructing climatic conditions during this period and analyzing the distribution of archaeological sites associated with the last Neanderthals and the first modern human populations with an approach typically used to study the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

This method uses geographic locations of archaeological sites dated by radiocarbon, in conjunction with high-resolution simulations of past climates for specific periods, and employs an algorithm to analyze relationships between the two datasets to reconstruct potential areas occupied by each human population and to determine if and how climatic conditions played a role in shaping these areas.

In other words, by integrating archaeological and paleoenvironmental datasets, this predictive method can reconstruct the regions that a past population could potentially have occupied.

Comparing these reconstructed areas for Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans during each of the climatic phases concerned, and by projecting each niche onto the subsequent climatic phases, Banks and colleagues determined that Neanderthals had the possibility to maintain their range across Europe during a period of less severe climatic conditions called Greenland Interstadial 8 (GI8).

The researchers models predict the southern limit of the modern human territory to be near the Ebro River Valley in northern Spain during the preceding cold period called Heinrich Event 4 (H4), and that this southern boundary moved to the south during the more temperate phase GI8.

The researchers conclude that the Neanderthal populations that occupied what is now southern Spain were the last to survive because they were able to avoid direct competition with modern humans since the two populations exploited distinct territories during the cold climatic conditions of H4.

They also point out that during this population event contact between Neanderthals and modern humans may have permitted cultural and genetic exchanges. (ANI)

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