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Humans pushed Neanderthals to extinction, research suggests

| | August 21, 2014

Guilty as charged. Over the years, humans have often been accused of killing off our Neanderthal cousins, although climate change, stupidity and even bad luck have been blamed too. Now we are back in the frame.

A reassessment of major archaeological sites suggests that instead of dying out 23,000 years ago, Neanderthals were gone as early as 39,000 years ago. It also looks like we shared their territory for 5000 years, steadily replacing them as we spread across Europe.

Some say the findings support the idea that our direct ancestors pushed Neanderthals out: humans were an invasive species.

Neanderthals came to Europe some 300,000 years ago. They hunted big game with stone tools. Their territory spanned Europe and Asia. They left distinctive “Mousterian” artefacts.

What has not been clear is when and how they died out. Tom Higham of the University of Oxford and his colleagues used improved techniques to date material from 40 key sites in Europe, spanning the period when humans reached Europe and Neanderthals vanished. They studied three types of artefact. Two of them, Mousterian and Châtelperronian, are probably Neanderthal. The third kind, Uluzzian, were once attributed to late Neanderthals, but recent work suggests they were made by humans.

Higham and his team found that every possible or definite Neanderthal site – Mousterian and Châtelperronian – was at least 40,000 years old.

Read the full, original story: Neanderthal demise traced in unprecedented detail

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