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Climate change did not cause extinction of Neanderthals

Climate change did not cause extinction of Neanderthals

Climate change did not cause extinction of Neanderthals
September 12, 2007

Researchers in Europe have found evidence that rules out a “single climatic event” as a factor in the extinction of Neanderthals.

Mapping radiocarbon dates of Neanderthal bones from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar directly onto a “well-dated palaeoclimate archive”, researchers show that Neanderthal extinction “did not coincide with any of the extreme climate events that punctuated the last glacial period.”

“Until now, there have been three limitations to understanding the role of climate in the Neanderthal extinction: uncertainty over the exact timing of their disappearance; uncertainties in converting radiocarbon dates to actual calendar years; and the chronological imprecision of the ancient climate record,” said lead author Chronis Tzedakis, a palaeoecologist at the University of Leeds.

La Ferrassie Homo neanderthalensis skull. Courtesy of Wesleyan University Archaeology & Anthropology Collections.

The researchers use their new method to show that dates of possible Neanderthal extinction from Gorham’s Cave did not correlate with known climate shifts.

“Our findings suggest that there was no single climatic event that caused the extinction of the Neanderthals,” concludes palaeonthropologist Katerina Harvati of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “Only the controversial date of 24,000 radiocarbon years for their disappearance, if proven correct, coincides with a major environmental shift. Even in this case, however, the role of climate would have been indirect, by promoting competition with other human groups.”

The researchers say their work is applicable to other research involving the fossil record.

“Our approach offers the huge potential to unravel the role of climate in critical events of the recent fossil record as it can be applied to any radiocarbon date from any deposit,” said paleoclimatologist Konrad Hughen of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The conclusions leave competition with humans as the leading culprit for the demise of Neanderthals.

CITATION: Tzedakis, P.C., Hughen, K.A., Cacho, I. & Harvati, K (2007). Placing late Neanderthals in a climatic context. Nature Sept 13, 2007


Global warming killed Neanderthals in Spain April 30, 2007
New research fingers climate change, not humans, as the culprit for the extinction of Neanderthals on the Iberian Peninsula. The research contradicts prevailing theory which holds modern humans responsible for their demise.

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