Experts have long presumed the subspecies died because of changes in Earth‘s climate, but a group of Homo Neanderthaliensis from the Western Mediterranean living there some 42,000 years ago seems to prove the theory wrong.
It Was Not Climate Change That Killed the Neanderthals
A team of scientists from the University of Bologna, Italy, has recreated our planet‘s prehistoric climate to figure out what actually happened to the Neanderthals. The analysis examined stalagmite formations discovered in caves in Apulia, a region on the coast of the Adriatic Sea in southern Italy.
Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens are believed to have co-existed in this part of Italy, more so on the Murge karst plateau, for about 3,000 years. The two species lived there between 45,000 and 42,000 years ago, according to some scientific calculations. Data gathered from the stalagmites in this particular region shows that climate change in that timeframe was not significant at all.
Lead researcher Andrea Columbu said: “Our study shows that this area of Apulia appears as a ‘climate niche’ during the transition from Neanderthals to Homo Sapiens. It doesn’t seem possible that significant climate changes happened during that period, at least not impactful enough to cause the extinction of Neanderthals in Apulia and, by the same token, in similar areas of the Mediterranean.”
Researchers have hypothesized that the Neanderthals went extinct because of climate change that happened in Europe about 42,000 years ago. However, as per this new study, rapid changes in the climate during the last Ice Age created gradually cold and dry weather.
So What Happened to the Neanderthals?
Ice cores collected from Greenland seemed to show how the climate changed during the Paleolithic period or Old Stone Age. However, new data obtained in the Mediterranean has contradicted these discoveries, deepening the mystery.
Research coordinator Jo De Waele said: “The analyses we carried out show little variation in rainfall between 50,000 and 27,000 years ago, the extent of this variation is not enough to cause alterations in the flora inhabiting the environment above the cave.”
“Carbon isotopes show that the bio-productivity of the soil remained all in all consistent during this period that includes the 3,000 years-long co-existence between Sapiens and Neanderthals. This means that significant changes in flora and thus in climate did not happen,” Waele explained.
So the question is, what actually happened to the Neanderthals who have lived in regions of the Mediterranean since 100,000 years ago? Stefano Benazzi, a paleontologist at the University of Bologna, suggests that hunting activity played a main role in their extinction.
He said: “The results we obtained corroborate the hypothesis, put forward by many scholars, that the extinction of Neanderthals had to do with technology. According to this hypothesis, the Homo Sapiens hunted using a technology that was far more advanced than Neanderthals’, and this represented a primary reason to Sapiens’ supremacy over Neanderthals, that eventually became extinct after 3,000 years of co-existence.”
A paper detailing the study’s findings has been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.