Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Volcanoes wiped out Neanderthals, new study suggests

Date:
October 7, 2010
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
New research suggests that climate change following massive volcanic eruptions drove Neanderthals to extinction and cleared the way for modern humans to thrive in Europe and Asia.

The Semeru volcano in Indonesia. New research suggests that climate change following massive volcanic eruptions drove Neanderthals to extinction and cleared the way for modern humans to thrive in Europe and Asia.
Credit: iStockphoto

New research suggests that climate change following massive volcanic eruptions drove Neanderthals to extinction and cleared the way for modern humans to thrive in Europe and Asia.

Related Articles


The research, led by Liubov Vitaliena Golovanova and Vladimir Borisovich Doronichev of the ANO Laboratory of Prehistory in St. Petersburg, Russia, is reported in the October issue of Current Anthropology.

"[W]e offer the hypothesis that the Neanderthal demise occurred abruptly (on a geological time-scale) … after the most powerful volcanic activity in western Eurasia during the period of Neanderthal evolutionary history," the researchers write. "[T]his catastrophe not only drastically destroyed the ecological niches of Neanderthal populations but also caused their mass physical depopulation."

Evidence for the catastrophe comes from Mezmaiskaya cave in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia, a site rich in Neanderthal bones and artifacts. Recent excavations of the cave revealed two distinct layers of volcanic ash that coincide with large-scale volcanic events that occurred around 40,000 years ago, the researchers say.

Geological layers containing the ashes also hold evidence of an abrupt and potentially devastating climate change. Sediment samples from the two layers reveal greatly reduced pollen concentrations compared to surrounding layers. That's an indication of a dramatic shift to a cooler and dryer climate, the researchers say. Further, the second of the two eruptions seems to mark the end of Neanderthal presence at Mezmaiskaya. Numerous Neanderthal bones, stone tools, and the bones of prey animals have been found in the geological layers below the second ash deposit, but none are found above it.

The ash layers correspond chronologically to what is known as the Campanian Ignimbrite super-eruption which occurred around 40,000 years ago in modern day Italy, and a smaller eruption thought to have occurred around the same time in the Caucasus Mountains. The researchers argue that these eruptions caused a "volcanic winter" as ash clouds obscured the sun's rays, possibly for years. The climatic shift devastated the region's ecosystems, "possibly resulting in the mass death of hominins and prey animals and the severe alteration of foraging zones."

Enter Modern Humans

Anthropologists have long puzzled over the disappearance of the Neanderthals and the apparently concurrent rise of modern humans. Was there some sort of advantage that helped early modern humans out-compete their doomed cousins? This research suggests that advantage may have been simple geographic location.

"Early moderns initially occupied the more southern parts of western Eurasia and Africa and thus avoided much of the direct impact of the … eruptions," the researchers write. And while advances in hunting techniques and social structure clearly aided the survival of modern humans as they moved north, they "may have further benefited from the Neanderthal population vacuum in Europe, allowing wider colonization and the establishment of strong source populations in northern Eurasia."

While the researchers stress that more data from other areas in Eurasia are needed to fully test the volcanic hypothesis, they believe the Mezmaiskaya cave offers "important supporting evidence" for the idea of a volcanic extinction.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Liubov Vitaliena Golovanova, Vladimir Borisovich Doronichev, Naomi Elancia Cleghorn, Marianna Alekseevna Koulkova, Tatiana Valentinovna Sapelko, and M. Steven Shackley. Significance of Ecological Factors in the Middle to Upper Paleolithic Transition. Current Anthropology, 2010; 51 (5): 655 DOI: 10.1086/656185

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Volcanoes wiped out Neanderthals, new study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101006094057.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2010, October 7). Volcanoes wiped out Neanderthals, new study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101006094057.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Volcanoes wiped out Neanderthals, new study suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101006094057.htm (accessed March 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

You Won't Be Driving Tesla's Mystery Product

You Won't Be Driving Tesla's Mystery Product

Newsy (Mar. 30, 2015) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a new product line will debut April 30, but it&apos;s not a car. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Impulse Departs Myanmar for China

Solar Impulse Departs Myanmar for China

AFP (Mar. 30, 2015) — Solar Impulse 2 takes off from Myanmar&apos;s second biggest city of Mandalay and heads for China&apos;s Chongqing, the fifth flight of a landmark journey to circumnavigate the globe powered solely by the sun. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Colombian Project Transforms Old Tires Into Green Housing

Colombian Project Transforms Old Tires Into Green Housing

AFP (Mar. 30, 2015) — To put a roof over their heads and help the environment, residents near Bogota are building houses out of recycled bottles and old tires. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Future Of Japanese Whaling: Heritage Vs. Conservation

The Future Of Japanese Whaling: Heritage Vs. Conservation

Newsy (Mar. 30, 2015) — In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled Japan could no longer engage in whaling in the Antarctic, but Japan has plans to return this year. 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