Neanderthal and Climate Change

February 3, 2010 at 10:09 AM Leave a comment

The last Neanderthals in Europe died out at least 37,000 years ago — and both climate change and interaction with modern humans could be involved in their demise. The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus that is known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia. Neanderthals are either classified as a subspecies of humans or as a separate species. How and why they died out is a matter of debate.

Professor João Zilhão and colleagues proposed 20 years ago that, south of the Cantabro-Pyrenean mountain chain, Neanderthals survived for several millennia after being replaced or assimilated by anatomically modern humans everywhere else in Europe.

Although the reality of this Ebro Frontier pattern has gained wide acceptance, two important aspects of the model have remained the object of unresolved controversy: the exact duration of the frontier; and the causes underlying the eventual disappearance of those Neanderthal populations (ecology and climate, or competition with modern human immigrants).

Professor Zilhão and colleagues now report new dating evidence for an archaeological culture unquestionably associated with modern humans. This constrains the age of the last Neanderthals of southern and western Iberia to no younger than some 37,000 years ago.

Climate change, we’re told, poses the single gravest threat to the survival of our species. This may have been one of the causes of the demise of the Neanderthal. Some evidence had suggested that they had survived in what is now called Spain or Iberia longer than other lands.

The evidence from the Zilhao study puts at five millennia the duration of the Iberian Neanderthal, and counters speculations that Neanderthal populations could have remained in the Gibraltar area until 28,000 years ago.

Neanderthals had many adaptations to a cold climate: short, robust builds, and rather large noses which are common species.traits selected by evolution in cold climates. Their cranial capacity was larger than modern humans, indicating that their brains may have been larger.

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Entry filed under: Climate Change. Tags: , .

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