Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Evidence On The Role Of Climate In Neanderthal Extinction

Date:
September 13, 2007
Source:
University of Leeds
Summary:
The mystery of what killed the Neanderthals has moved a step closer to resolution after a new study has ruled out one of the competing theories -- catastrophic climate change -- as the most likely cause. The causes of their extinction have puzzled scientists for years -- with some believing it was due to competition with modern humans, while others blamed deteriorating climatic conditions.

Comparison of Neanderthal and modern human skeletons.
Credit: Photo: K. Mowbray, Reconstruction: G. Sawyer and B. Maley, Copyright: Ian Tattersall, Courtesy Max Planck Society)

The mystery of what killed the Neanderthals has moved a step closer to resolution after an international study led by the University of Leeds has ruled out one of the competing theories -- catastrophic climate change -- as the most likely cause.

Related Articles


The bones of more than 400 Neanderthals have been found since the first discoveries were made in the early 19th century. The finds suggest the Neanderthals, named after the Neander Valley near Dόsseldorf, where they were first recognized as an extinct kind of archaic humans, inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia for more than 100,000 years.

The causes of their extinction have puzzled scientists for years -- with some believing it was due to competition with modern humans, while others blamed deteriorating climatic conditions. But a new study recently published in Nature has shown that the Neanderthal extinction did not coincide with any of the extreme climate events that punctuated the last glacial period.

The research was led by Professor Chronis Tzedakis, a palaeoecologist at the University of Leeds, who explained: "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."

The team's novel method -- mapping radiocarbon dates of interest directly onto a well-dated palaeoclimate archive -- circumvented the last two problems, providing a much more detailed picture of the climate at the possible times of the Neanderthal disappearance.

The researchers applied the new method to three alternative sets of dates for the timing of the Neanderthal extinction from Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar, a site which is thought to have been occupied by some of the latest surviving Neanderthals:

  • a set of generally accepted but older dates (around 30-32,000 radiocarbon years ago)
  • newly-suggested younger dates (around 28,000 radiocarbon years ago)
  • more contentious dates (around 24,000 radiocarbon years ago).

The team showed that during the first two sets of dates, Europe was experiencing conditions similar to the general climatic instability of the last glacial period -- conditions the Neanderthals had already proved able to survive.

The much more controversial date of around 24,000 radiocarbon years ago placed the last Neanderthals just before a large expansion of ice sheets and the onset of cold conditions in northern Europe. "But at that time, Gibraltar's climate remained relatively unaffected, perhaps as a result of warm water from the subtropical Atlantic entering the western Mediterranean," explained palaeoceanographer Isabel Cacho of the University of Barcelona.

"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 work also has wider implications for other studies, as paleoclimatologist Konrad Hughen of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution explained: "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."

The article Placing late Neanderthals in a climatic context (Tzedakis, P.C., Hughen, K.A., Cacho, I. & Harvati, K) is published in Nature on September 13. The study was conducted by Chronis Tzedakis (University of Leeds); Konrad Hughen (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution); Isabel Cacho (University of Barcelona); Katerina Harvati (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Leeds. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Leeds. "New Evidence On The Role Of Climate In Neanderthal Extinction." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070912154630.htm>.
University of Leeds. (2007, September 13). New Evidence On The Role Of Climate In Neanderthal Extinction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070912154630.htm
University of Leeds. "New Evidence On The Role Of Climate In Neanderthal Extinction." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070912154630.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, January 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Discovery Of 'Dragon' Dinosaur In China Could Explain Myths

Discovery Of 'Dragon' Dinosaur In China Could Explain Myths

Newsy (Jan. 30, 2015) — A long-necked dinosaur from the Jurassic Period was discovered in China. Researchers think it could answer mythology questions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Battle of Waterloo Artefacts Go on Display at Windsor Castle

Battle of Waterloo Artefacts Go on Display at Windsor Castle

AFP (Jan. 29, 2015) — Artefacts from the Battle of Waterloo go on display at Windsor Castle to mark the 200th anniversary of the momentous battle. The exhibition includes contemporary prints, drawings and personal belongings of French Emperor Napoleon. Duration: 00:31 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mideast Skull Find Sheds Light on Human Ancestors' Trek

Mideast Skull Find Sheds Light on Human Ancestors' Trek

AFP (Jan. 29, 2015) — A 55,000-year-old partial skull found in the Middle East gives clues to when our ancestors left their African homeland, and strengthens theories that they co-habited with Neanderthals. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Say Earliest Snakes Lived Alongside The Dinosaurs

Scientists Say Earliest Snakes Lived Alongside The Dinosaurs

Newsy (Jan. 28, 2015) — Wrongly categorized as lizard fossils, snake fossils now show the reptile could have developed earlier than we thought — 70 million years earlier. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins