Tech UPTechnologyVolcanic eruptions wiped out Neanderthals

Volcanic eruptions wiped out Neanderthals

“We hypothesized thatthe disappearance of neanderthalsoccurred abruptly (on a geologic time scale) afterthe most powerful volcanic activity recorded in western Eurasiaduring the period of Neanderthal evolutionary history “, they write in the magazineCurrent Anthropologyresearchers Liubov Vitaliena Golovanova and Vladimir Borisovich Doronichev, from the ANO Prehistory Laboratory in Saint Petersburg (Russia). “This catastrophe not only drastically destroyed the ecological niches of Neanderthal populations, it also caused amassive depopulation“, they add.

Evidence for the catastrophe comes from the Mezmaiskaya Cave in Russia’s southern Caucasus Mountains, a site rich in Neanderthal bones and tools. Recent excavations of the cave revealtwo different layers of volcanic ashthat coincide with large-scale volcanic events that occurred about 40,000 years ago, the researchers say.

The geological layers containing the ashes also show evidence of aabrupt and potentially devastating climate change. Sediment samples from the two layers reveal a serious reduction in pollen concentrations compared to the surrounding layers, indicating a dramatic shift towards a cooler and drier climate. Furthermore, the second of the two eruptions appears to mark the end of the Neanderthal presence at Mezmaiskaya. Numerous Neanderthal bones, stone tools, and prey animal bones have been found in the geological layers below the ash deposit, but none of them are found above it.

The ash layers correspond chronologically to what is known as the Campanian Ignimbrite supereruption, which occurred about 40,000 years ago in present-day Italy, and a minor eruption is believed to have occurred around the same time in the Caucasus Mountains. The researchers argue that theseeruptions caused a “volcanic winter”, in which ash clouds obscured the sun’s rays, possibly for years. Climate change “caused the massive death of hominids and prey animals and the severe alteration of feeding grounds.”

As for early modern humans, the researchers suggest that “they initially occupied the southernmost part of western Eurasia and Africa and thus avoided most of the direct effects of the eruptions.” And while advances in hunting techniques and social structure clearly aided the survival of modern humans as they moved north, “they may have benefited from the vacuum left by the Neanderthal population in Europe, allowing for further colonization and the establishment of strong home populations in northern Eurasia. “

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