Were Neanderthals wiped out by icy climate change?

Image credit: University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Image credit: University of Northumbria at Newcastle

About 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals began disappearing from Europe, but exactly why they died out is a mystery.

Researchers propose a new hypothesis this week that suggests our bipedal brethren weren’t equipped to stand a cold spell that accompanied two long periods of extended climate change that took place around the time the species began its decline.

[T]he new palaeoclimate records show that a particularly cold, dry period began about 44,000 years ago and lasted 1,000 years. Another cold dry period began, 40,800 years ago, lasting about 600 years. It was cold enough that average temperatures dropped to below zero, creating year-round permafrost.

Those climate disruptions correspond to the archaeological record, which shows that at the same time Neanderthals began to disappear from the Danube River Valley.

Related article:  Were humans superior to Neanderthals? Or just luckier?

The double-dose of super-cold weather likely radically changed the environment, transforming the open woodlands of central Europe into Arctic-like steppes.

So why did Neanderthals die out during these climate shifts while modern humans survived? The researchers suggest that because Neanderthals relied heavily on protein from large game animals they had trouble adapting when climate change impacted populations of those animals. Homo sapiens, on the other hand, were more adaptive, eating a variety of plants, fish and meat, meaning they could survive on the cold steppe.

Read full, original post: Climate Change Likely Iced Neanderthals Out Of Existence

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