A new research shed light on a possible new cause of the extinction of Neanderthals. These hominins disappeared from the face of Earth around 40,000 years ago, after coexisting for about 12,000 years with humans. While the latter continued developing, their slow migration into Europe from the continent of Africa might have caused Neanderthals to go extinct.
Random species drift brought Neanderthals’ doom
Two researchers, Oren Kolodny and Marcus Feldman, knew the two populations lived during the same period. However, only humans were able to survive. They were curious about what drove the extinction of Neanderthals, so they decided to run a simulation of how the two species would have interacted.
They thought humans might have become smarter and stronger than Neanderthals, which favorized the survival of only one species. However, the results were interesting. Humans didn’t actually show some genetic traits which promoted their survival, and climate factors didn’t affect the Neanderthal populations.
Therefore, a possible superiority of humans over Neanderthals was irrelevant in this process. The real culprit was actually random species drift. This means that humans migrated from Africa to Europe and, given their higher numbers, they ended up replacing the Neanderthal population.
The migration of humans into Europe eventually brought the replacement of the Neanderthals
The hominins’ origin dates back to 400,000 years ago, in Europe, and they started their interaction with humans when these started migrating into the continent. For about 10,000 years, the two populations interacted, and even bred with one another. Then, 40,000 years ago, the Neanderthals disappeared.
Older theories suggested climate change as the main cause of this extinction. This could have been possible, since the populations went off during a time of extreme weather conditions. However, the second alternative proposes the competition between the two species, with the victorious humans being more sophisticated.
However, the latest study says that Neanderthals would have went extinct regardless of extreme climate or evolutionary disadvantage, as humans were meant to replace them. The study in question has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
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