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Climate Change And Colder Temperatures May Have Doomed Neanderthals

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Neanderthals may have met their end, at least in part, due to colder temperatures brought about by global climate change. The climate in Europe 40,000 years ago was bitter cold, and investigators believe this may have played a part in the extinction of that species.

As freezing temperatures encompassed the European continent, Neanderthals went to great lengths to extract all the food available from prey. That conclusion is the result of analysis of the remains of prey animals consumed by these ancient hominids.

"Our research uncovers a pattern showing that cold, harsh environments were stressful for Neanderthals. As the climate got colder, Neanderthals had to put more into extracting nutrients from bones. This is especially apparent in evidence that reveals Neanderthals attempted to break open even low marrow yield bones, like the small bones of the feet," Jamie Hodgkins of the University of Colorado Denver said.

Neanderthals last walked the land of south western Europe roughly 400 centuries before our own time. The remains of prey animals, including deer, discovered there reveals the effort these beings went through to capture all the calories they could from a successful hunt. Evidence includes an increased frequency of percussion marks on bones, indicating additional processing during cold periods.

Modern humans arrived in lands occupied by Neanderthals just as the latest Ice Age was ending, between 12,000 and 10,000 years before the modern age. This new research suggests that Neanderthals, already weakened by the cold climate and lack of available food, may have been easily driven to extinction by competition delivered by the arrival of Homo sapiens.

Neanderthals are popularly believed to be dim, slow-witted creatures, but new research reveals they may have possessed significant cognitive abilities. Although not usually considered a direct ancestor to modern populations of humans, DNA of people around the world holds a small sample of the genetic code of these ancient beings.

New genetic techniques could make it possible to, potentially, bring Neanderthals back in the form of clones. This idea has raised a significant amount of controversy in scientific circles worldwide.

Analysis of how climate change may have led to the extinction of Neanderthals is published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Photo: Erich Ferdinand | Flickr

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