New Historian

Reliable Neanderthal Extinction Date Found

Head of a typical male Neanderthal

<![CDATA[For a long time it has been uncertain when and why Neanderthals became extinct. It is commonly believed that humans drove them to extinction, but new evidence suggests that the Neanderthals in Europe didn't die out until about 39,000 to 41,000 years ago. This means that modern humans could have lived alongside Neanderthal's and may have even bred with them. Lead author on the latest research Tom Higham, a radiocarbon scientist at Oxford University, stated that this is the first time that a reliable date for the extinction of the Neanderthals has been put forward. Higham and his team studied bone, charcoal and shell remains from forty different archaeological sites across Europe, and used advanced techniques such as molecular ultra-filtration to remove contaminants that could have made the samples seem younger than they actually were. Neanderthals were a species of humans that originated in the Eurasia area about 200,000 years ago. They were characterized by a larger skull than modern humans with males standing at just over five feet tall. Studies have found that Neanderthals were so closely related to modern humans that their DNA only differed from ours by 0.12%. This would have allowed them to interbreed with humans, and scientists believe that this could have begun around 80,000 years ago. Recent studies have revealed that Neanderthals were almost as advanced as the humans that lived in those times, as they also intentionally buried their dead. In 2013, scientists mapped the entire genome of the Neanderthal by extracting the genes from the toe bone of a 130,000 year old skeleton found in Siberia. The mystery regarding when Neanderthal's went extinct has been one of the most hotly debated topics in modern science. It has been suggested that humans and Neanderthals co-existed for about a thousand years, although a recent study argued Neanderthals had become extinct before humans came to Europe. The confusion about the Neanderthal's extinction is what pushed Higham to start his recent study. By studying the remains of Neanderthals, the team found that the prehistoric species lived across Europe, from the Atlantic coast to the Black Sea. The study found that Neanderthals and modern humans may have coexisted for 2,600 to 5,400 years. During these years the two species intermingled, sharing their cultural differences, and possibly interbreeding. Higham postulates that the Neanderthals did not suddenly go extinct, but were actually assimilated into the modern human genome. This process may have been helped by the fact that they were already fading out when modern humans came onto the scene. The Neanderthal extinction may have been more drawn out and much more complex than what can currently be ascertained. Based on the new findings, Higham estimates the interbreeding events to have happened between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago, which correlates with the results of his studies across Europe. Higham hopes to expand his research into Eastern Europe and the Eurasia region to look for more patterns that could help explain how the Neanderthals went extinct and how modern humans came to dominance. The recent findings were published in the journal Nature. ]]>

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