Neanderthals in Europe showed signs of nutritional stress during periods of extreme cold, suggesting climate change may have contributed to their demise around 40,000 years ago.
A researcher at the University of Colorado Denver has found that Neanderthals in Europe showed signs of nutritional stress during periods of extreme cold, suggesting climate change may have contributed to their demise around 40,000 years ago.
Jamie Hodgkins, a zooarchaeologist and assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at CU Denver, analyzed the remains of prey animals and found that Neanderthals worked especially hard to extract every calorie from the meat and bones during colder time periods. Her results were published in the Journal of Human Evolution last week.
Cold climates are much more hostile to human beings than hot ones. But (a corollary) not many human beings live in cold climates, so we tend not to realize that fact fully.
“Our results illustrate that climate change has real effects,” said Hodgkins. “Studying Neanderthal behavior is an opportunity to understand how a rapidly changing climate affected our closest human relatives in the past. If Neanderthal populations were already on the edge of survival at the end of the Ice Age, the increased competition that occurred when modern humans appeared on the scene may have pushed them over the edge.” Paper. (paywall) – Jamie Hodgkins, Curtis W. Marean, Alain Turq, Dennis Sandgathe, Shannon J.P. McPherron, Harold Dibble. Climate-mediated shifts in Neandertal subsistence behaviors at Pech de l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal (Dordogne Valley, France). Journal of Human Evolution, 2016; 96: 1 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2016.03.009 More.
Well, first, we don’t know that colder climates directly affected the “extinction” of Neanderthals. Neanderthals were probably better adapted to the cold than newcomers. They may simply have lost a distinct status as a result of merging with the modern human population.
If we are into speculation, based on an interesting detail (this paper is a useful example), here’s a thought: Native North American cultures took a blow when Europeans started migrating in great numbers, in part because the majority of European arrivals (in Canada, at least) were men. Later, the pace of settlement enabled European women to come over safely, and the odds started to even out. Meanwhile, a large proportion of native women married Europeans, especially if they owned land, farm animals, or trading posts. If anything like that happened to the Neanderthals, they would experience it as a cultural loss that paves the way to assimilation.
Not a thesis in science, but probably as good as most on offer.
See also: Bill Nye is a huckster (Barry Arrington)
Jimmy Kimmel vs. Sarah Palin on climate change: my take (Vincent Torley)
Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
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