Neanderthals not done in by climate?

Skull of Homo neanderthalensis: Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Skull of Homo neanderthalensis: Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
A new study in the cause of Neanderthal man’s (Homo neanderthalensis) extinction counters a previous study that linked the demise to sudden changes in the southern Europe’s climate.

The new report, by a paleoanthropologist from Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Biology, claims that there is no discernible connection of the extinction of our closest evolutionary relatives to extreme climate change.

Published recently in the journal Nature, the new research is centered on the comparing of evidence gathered from deep-sea core drillings in Venezuela, and from sediments found at Gorham’s Cave, in southern Gibraltar, thought to be one of the last places inhabited by Neanderthals on the European continent.

Using radiocarbon dates of 32,000, 28,000 and 24,000 (which are thought to mark the demise of our stocky prehistoric cousins), professor Katerina Harvati and her team compared them to past climate data gathered from the deep-sea drilling cores.

"The more controversial date of circa 24,000 years ago, places the last Neanderthals just before a major climate shift that would have been characterized by a large expansion of ice sheets and the onset of cold conditions in northern Europe,” according to Harvati, who co- authored the paper.

"But Gibraltar's climate would have remained relatively unaffected, perhaps as a result of warm water from the sub-tropical Atlantic entering the western Mediterranean,” she said

Converting a radiocarbon date into a calendar year can be tricky, but the team came up with a method to correlate estimated dates of the species’ demise with records of past climate. The first two dates, 32,000 and 28,000 didn’t correlate with any extreme climatic changes. And the earlier date, 24,000, corresponded to a paleoclimate occurring before the onset of colder, more severe weather in northern Europe, and ice-sheet advancement.

But even then the authors say that the onset was hardly a sudden ice-age, but rather the beginning of a 1000-year gradual change in climate.

So if a sudden shift in climate didn’t kill off the Neanderthals, what did? The question remains open.

"This eliminates catastrophic climate change as a cause for extinction, but this leaves a whole range of other possibilities,” Harvati said.


BBC website story
History of Gorham’s Cave
Early Modern Homo sapiens

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posted on Wed, 09/26/2007 - 9:59am

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