Our technology would have killed them instead.

Researchers have long wondered why Neanderthals died out in Europe almost 42,000 years ago. A common hypothesis is that it was related to climate change. During the last ice age, rapid and violent changes in climate would have killed the hominids; they couldn’t cope with the increasingly colder and drier weather conditions.

Climate change
But a new study now reveals that climate change played no role in the extinction of the Neanderthals who lived in modern-day Italy. And the same probably applies to Neanderthals in comparable parts of the Mediterranean.

The researchers draw that conclusion after they did research in the Italian region of Apulia. They focused specifically on Altopiano delle Murge, an area where Neanderthals and modern people lived side-by-side prior to the Neanderthals’ extinction for about 3,000 years.

Stalagmites
The researchers went into caves and studied stalagmites. “Since stalagmites are created by dripping rainwater, they provide us with undeniable evidence of the presence or absence of rain,” said researcher Jo De Waele. In addition, they are made from calcite, which houses carbon and oxygen isotopes. The latter provide us with information about the ground and how often it rained during the stalagmite period. ” An analysis of stalagmites shows that during the period in which Neanderthals and modern people lived in this area, there were no major climate changes. “The analyzes we conducted show little variation in rainfall between 50,000 and 27,000 years ago. And the variation in rainfall that the researchers saw in the stalagmites is so small that it cannot have brought about changes in the appearance of plants and flowers around the cave. Carbon isotopes indicate that the bioproductivity of the soil during this period – including the 3,000 years in which the modern humans and Neanderthals lived together – was quite consistent. It means that there were no significant changes in flora and therefore the climate. ”

A researcher is investigating stalagmites in a cave in southeastern Italy. Image: O. Lacarbonara.

Climate niche
Until recently, the idea that climate change played a role in the disappearance of Neanderthals was mainly based on ice cores from Greenland and soil measurements carried out in continental Europe. These paleoclimatic sources testified to a significant change in the climate. But it was different in the Mediterranean. “Our study shows that this part of Apulia was apparently a climate niche,” said researcher Andrea Columbu. “It doesn’t seem possible that significant climatic changes took place during that period (when Neanderthals and modern people lived side-by-side here, ed.) And (any changes, ed.) Were not so big that they led to the extinction of Neanderthals in Apulia and comparable parts of the Mediterranean. “

But how can it be explained that the Neanderthals – after living side by side with modern humans for several millennia – went extinct after all? “Our results support the hypothesis held by many scientists, that the extinction of Neanderthals was related to technology,” said researcher Stefano Benazzi. “According to this hypothesis, the hunting technique of the Homo sapiens was much more advanced than that of the Neanderthals and mainly resulted in Homo sapiens outnumbering the Neanderthals and eventually becoming Neanderthals extinct after 3000 years.”

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