Tech UPTechnologyWhat ended the existence of Neanderthals?

What ended the existence of Neanderthals?

Over time, researchers have defended various theories about one of the most studied mysteries in science : the extinction of the Neanderthals. From extermination to volcanic activity and endless other factors emerge from scientific publications that are updated, ratified or contradicted with each new paleoanthropological finding. What phase are we in now? What is told when we talk about the end of the Neanderthals?

In the spotlight

Homo neanderthalens i s is one of the most studied human species. Several elements come together in it that make it attractive to science. Well, let’s be fair: to the science of the Western world and, more specifically, to the Eurocentric branch, which still has reflections in many current studies. And it is that Neanderthals represent the closest ancestor to sapiens to date and that influences the search for answers to the universal question “where do we come from?” In addition, he is a human considered genuinely European and, as if that were not enough, he has a dramatic and mysterious disappearance behind him. The resources are unbeatable to put together a good script.

Of course, certain ideas of past mentalities are already outdated . In 1971, Ralph Solecki subtitled his publication on Neanderthals as The First Flower People , in reference to his excavations at Shanidar, Iraq, where burials with flower offerings turned up. Since then, the image of the ape , of being intellectually inferior to the one that we, the sapiens, surpass with the most complete evolution, as if it were a Pokémon, has been surpassed . Archeology has helped combat these prejudices, attesting that there are not so many physical or cultural differences between Neanderthals and Sapiens. Nor, of course, Europe was so key in our evolution. For further proof: both species interbred and produced fertile offspring , which has generated much debate, with scholars arguing that Neanderthals and Sapiens are the same species. In any case, the humans who populate the Earth today have between one and four percent Neanderthal DNA.

The only thing we can’t refute to end obsolete thoughts is the element of mystery. It seems that we still have a long way to go to find more reliable certainties about the extinction of Neanderthals. Meanwhile, what is counted now?

40,000 years ago…

About the only certainty a paleoanthropologist would talk to you with any certainty is chronology: Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago. And yet, such an assertion is not without debate.

At first, the culprits for the extinction of the Neanderthal were us, Homo sapiens. But currently this theory is discarded and it is understood that it is difficult for a single cause to end a species. Rather , several important factors such as climatic changes and the very social structure in which Homo neanderthalensis were organized would influence.

From the outset, it should be borne in mind that, despite the mystery and drama, we are talking about a totally normalized and natural process. In other words, it is estimated that 99.9% of all species that have passed through the Earth have become extinct (our time will come too). Among the various reasons that kill living beings throughout the history of the Earth, competition between species and changes in ecosystems stand out. The current stories point to these reasons.

Neanderthals were in this world for 350,000 years. Taking the oldest date with which the remains of sapiens have been dated, we still have about 50,000 years to tie them. During all that time, our closest cousins lived through countless climatic changes. In fact, they moved with the weather, with up to ten changes between glacial and interglacial periods. Thus, as the climate became more or less benevolent, Neanderthal remains were found further north and east of Europe. An important question is: if they were used to these climatic variations, why would a new change affect them to the point of making them extinct?

It seems that 55,000 years ago, the changes no longer occurred on a geological scale, but in human time. They were drastic, rapid and unpredictable changes. This could be what determined the end of the species.

Adapt or die

Among the predators that have existed on Earth, the more specialized they are, the worse it is to survive the passage of time. And it seems that Neanderthals were very specialized. Their subsistence depended heavily on bison , and as the cold swept through the vegetation of northern Europe, the bison dwindled, and with them the Neanderthal way of life. Something similar to what happened with the North American Indians : the excessive hunting of the bison ended with their main pillar for life, from which they ate, dressed and took shelter to build their tipis. Only that, in addition, the Neanderthals are not recognized techniques for making skins that would protect them against the cold.

As if that were not enough, the sapiens arrived in Europe at that time. With their sewing needles, fishing harpoons and carrying ornaments that proved a social structure predisposed to gifts and, therefore, to cooperate, they had more tickets bought to successfully emerge from the competition for scarce resources.

There is no shortage of proposals such as volcanic eruptions , the fall of meteorites and other circumstances that would complicate the existence of the Neanderthal. But, despite this, rather than becoming extinct , the researchers speak of the end of the Neanderthals as a process by which they would have been diluted in a mixture with Sapiens.

Both species coexisted for 3,000 years, but the sapiens spread at an unparalleled speed and to places never inhabited by bipeds. On his way he met other human species and none of them are still among us. We still have a lot to find out about that question: where did we come from?

References:

Black, B. A. et al. 2015. Campanian Ignimbrite volcanism, climate, and the final decline of the Neanderthals. Geology 43, 5, 411-414. DOI: 10.1130/G36514.1.
Monclova, A. 2020. La extinción del neandertal y los humanos modernos. Almuzara.
Zwie, I. et al. 2021. Evolution of genetic networks for human creativity. Molecular Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/s41380-021-01097-y.

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