Neanderthals may have gone extinct due to chance, and not, as some researchers previously thought, due to competition for resources with Homo sapiens, according to a study published on [November 27] in PLOS ONE. Simulations of population dynamics, carried out by researchers in the Netherlands, suggests that inbreeding, small population sizes, and a pinch of misfortune could have been sufficient to wipe out our hominin cousins around 40,000 years ago.
“The standard story is that Homo sapiens invaded Europe and the near east where Neanderthals were living and then we outsmarted them or outnumbered them,” study coauthor Krist Vaesen of Eindhoven University of Technology tells The Guardian. “The main conclusion of our work is that humans were not needed for the Neanderthals to go extinct. It’s certainly possible that it was just bad luck.”
…[Researcher Krist] Vaesen tells Cosmos that our human ancestors could have accelerated the process indirectly, perhaps by making it “much more difficult for Neanderthals to migrate among subpopulations.” Interspecies breeding between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals may also have reduced the latter’s population growth, by reducing opportunities for Neanderthals to replenish their own numbers.
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