Climate did not blame at the end of the Neanderthals

No correlation between climatic swings and extinction time

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Why did the Neanderthals die out? To this day, this question is not completely answered. At issue are climatic causes or the competition of modern humans. In a study published in "Nature", palooscopists have now shown that the extinction of the Neanderthals does not correlate with extreme climatic fluctuations in time. The climate could therefore at best have exacerbated competition, but not have been the cause of extinction, the researchers said.


About 400 bones of Neanderthals have been found since the first discovery of this human species in the early 19th century. The "cousin" of modern man populated Europe and parts of western Asia for more than 100, 000 years. Even the hard climate of the Ice Age survived. But then, about 30, 000 years ago, the Neanderthals suddenly disappeared. They died out. But why? This is the question that paleontologists and anthropologists have been dealing with for almost a hundred years, but there is no definitive answer yet.

Competition or climate?

There are two potential causes for debate: competition with modern humans and a sudden climate swing to which the Ice Age people were unable to adapt quickly enough. A new study by researchers from the University of Leeds has now refuted one of these theories using new data analysis.

"So far, there have been three limiting factors that limited our understanding of the role of climate in the extinction of Neanderthals, " explains Chronis Tzedakis, professor of paleoecology at the University of Leeds. "Uncertainty about the exact timing of their extinction, problems translating radiocarbon dating into exact dates, and the chronological inaccuracy of paleoclimatic data." Display

Three alternative dates for the same relics

The researchers avoided the last two problems by transferring radiocarbon data directly to a well-documented paleoclimatic archive. As a basis, they used three different radiocarbon datasets derived from bones from the Gorham Cave on Gibraltar, one of the Neanderthal sites that are considered the last "refuge" of the dying race. While the oldest of these records dates the bones to an age of 30, 000 to 32, 0000 years, the two gave younger radiocarbon values ​​of 28, 000 and 24, 000 years, respectively.

The paleoecologists compared this data with the climatic data of these time periods to see if there was any change in the climate at the time. For the first two records, 30, 000 to 28, 000 years, she was able to refute this assumption directly: Europe was experiencing relatively stable climate conditions at that time that were similar to those of the previous ice age and that the Neanderthals had easily survived.

Climate at best as a competitive amplifier

Somewhat more ambiguous were the results for the most recent date. For 24, 000 years ago, the ice cover was just before a large expansion and a new cold spell broke over Europe. "But at that time, the climate in Gibraltar was still relatively stable - possibly as a result of a warm water flow from the subtropical Atlantic to the western Mediterranean, " said Isabel Cahco of the University of Barcelona, ​​study contributor.

Her colleague Katerina Harvati, paleoanthropologist from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig adds: "Our results suggest that it was not a single climatic event that caused the end of Neanderthals. Only the already controversial dating to 24, 000 years coincides with a major change in environmental conditions. But even in this case, the role of the climate would at best be indirect, as an amplifying factor for competition with modern man

(University of Leeds, 13.09.2007 - NPO)