Sudden extinction of Neanderthals followed population peak

July 26, 2016, University of Cologne
A Neanderthal skeleton, left, compared with a modern human skeleton. Credit: American Museum of Natural History

Neanderthals once populated the entire European continent. Around 45,000 years ago, Homo neanderthalensis was the predominant human species in Europe. Archaeological findings show that there were also several settlements in Germany. However, the era of the Neanderthal came to an end quite suddenly. Based on an analysis of the known archaeological sites, Professor Jürgen Richter from Collaborative Research Center 806 – Our Way to Europe, in which the universities of Cologne, Bonn and Aachen cooperate, comes to the conclusion that Neanderthals reached their population peak right before their population rapidly declined and they eventually became extinct.

Neanderthals lived in the Middle Paleolithic, the middle period of the Old Stone Age. This period encompasses the time from roughly 200,000 to 40,000 before our times. In his article published in the Quaternary International journal, Richter comes to the conclusion that more than 50 percent of the known Neanderthal settlement sites in Germany can be dated to the Middle Paleolithic. More precisely, they date back 60,000 to 43,000 years before our times. Thus, the Neanderthal peak seems to lie in this period.

The number of sites, their analysis and the analysis of the artefacts found at these settlements indicate that the Neanderthal population in Germany was subject to extreme demographic fluctuations. During the Middle Paleolithic, there appear to have been several migrations, population increase and decline, extinction in certain areas and then a return of settlers to these areas. While for the time period between 110,000 to 70,000 years ago there are only four known settlement sites, in the following period from 70,000 to 43,000 years ago there are ninety-four. In less than 1,000 years after this demographic peak, however, there was a rapid decline and the Neanderthal disappeared from the scene. Precisely why the species died out is still unclear. Perhaps it was due to low genetic diversity, perhaps to the rise of Homo sapiens. This question will continue to occupy scientists.

Explore further: Genetic analysis of Ice Age Europeans

More information: Jürgen Richter. Leave at the height of the party: A critical review of the Middle Paleolithic in Western Central Europe from its beginnings to its rapid decline, Quaternary International (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2016.01.018

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RobertKarlStonjek
4.8 / 5 (10) Jul 26, 2016
Recalling how American Indians, Incas and Aztecs were devastated by the invaders disease far more than their swords I would be very surprised if the Neanderthal did not also suffer devastation in the same way. The invading species also suffers, but they have a reserve coming into the Neanderthal territory.

With known cross-breeding we know that sexual contact was occurring and this is another disease vector.

The assumption that Neanderthals were wiped out by violent attack by H. Sapiens is unnecessary, especially in light of communities wiped out just a few centuries ago under similar circumstances ie invading culture brings fatal pandemics that the invaders can cope with.
john berry_hobbes
3.8 / 5 (6) Jul 26, 2016
Not to mention that they had evolved for a very different climate than was becoming the norm at the time they declined. That had to increase stress, decrease immune response, in a vicious circle. Add that they seem to have been very focused on big game- also declining- while we were eating things they wouldn't, like rabbits, and I agree, there was no need for there to have been conscious genocide involved.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 26, 2016
I agree that genocide is unlikely, but so is pandemics alone.

Neanderthal expert John Hawks points out that a single factor doesn't explain the data. Specifically, Neanderthals were as culturally advanced as other Sapiens as they entered Europe. and the free crossbreeding - genetically as one population according to recent analysis - show that they made love rather than war.

The problem with N. was that they had a much more severe bottleneck than the later immigrants. The "free crossbreeding" analysis is based on that their genes had 40 % [!] less fitness on average, matching remaining record of crossings. Already 10 % difference is severe.

Likely then they just assimilated, and their distinctive features and those genes were swamped by more fit ones. (And yes, pandemics would be both consistent and help as a missing co-factor: need more than one factor. Bad genes, more diseases.) Or so I think. We'll see what the experts will eventually conclude.
moranity
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 27, 2016
the proven fact that Homo sapiens sapiens interbred with Neanderthals means we became one group
huckmucus
5 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2016
Did Neanderthals have dogs?
Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2016
the proven fact that Homo sapiens sapiens interbred with Neanderthals means we became one group

While there was certainly a small amount of inter-breeding, the amount of DNA we still carry says this did not occur. We are a completely different species, similar to how a zebra is different from a horse.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2016
We are a completely different species, similar to how a zebra is different from a horse.


That is arguable, see my comment.

Some heavy hitters like Neanderthal expert John Hawks and speciation specialist Jerry Coyne thinks we (Anatomically Modern Humans, Neanderthals, likely Denisovans) may be subspecies of Sapiens. JC:

"But a little bit of gene flow isn't enough to convince most of us that these groups were conspecific. On that basis, the Darwin's finches would be deemed conspecific, but nobody does that. The question is whether that gene flow reflected lack of opportunity for mating (in which case they might be the same species), or pervasive hybridization (between, say, modern humans and Neandertals) but only weak viability or fertility of the "hybrids" (in which case they'd be different species). We will probably never know the answer to this.

Does this make the species status of these three groups purely arbitrary? I don't think so.

[tbcdt]
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2016
[ctd] What we can do is get a "yardstick" by seeing whether other species of primates that were separated for as long as Neandertals, Denisovans, and modern humans—roughly half a million years—have evolved into reproductively isolated groups. I'm not sure what the answer is (it's probably sitting there somewhere in the literature), but I'd guess that they wouldn't be separate species, especially because humans have much longer generation times than other primates and so would speciate even more slowly. If it were my call, I'd agree with Hawks (but for somewhat different reasons), calling Neandertals, Denisovans, and modern humans all members of Homo sapiens."

[ https://whyevolut...oraries/ ]

[tbctd]
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2016
[ctd] Here is the ref on the genome results showing us effectively being one population, perhaps testing Hawks & Coyne guess:

"The results suggest that Neanderthals carried many mutations with mild, but harmful effects. The combined effect of these weak mutations would have made Neanderthals at least 40% less fit than humans in evolutionary terms--that is, they were 40% less likely to reproduce and pass on their genes to the next generation."

"Today, Neanderthal sequences make up approximately 2% of the genome in people from non-African populations. But Harris and Nielsen estimate that at the time of interbreeding, closer to 10% of the human migrants' genome would have been Neanderthal. Because there were around ten times more humans than Neanderthals, [b]this number is consistent with the two groups acting as as single population that interbred at random.[/b]"

[ https://www.scien...3654.htm ; my bold]
SciTechdude
4 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2016
If it has a hole, someone will put their dick in it. Same was true millions of years ago as today.
huckmucus
5 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2016
If it has a hole, someone will put their dick in it. Same was true millions of years ago as today.


I know, right? There's always someone who says "I'd hit it."
jonesdave
2 / 5 (4) Jul 30, 2016

......But Harris and Nielsen estimate that at the time of interbreeding, closer to 10% of the human migrants' genome would have been Neanderthal. Because there were around ten times more humans than Neanderthals, [b]this number is consistent with the two groups acting as as single population that interbred at random.[/b]"


Indeed. As per this article: http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv

This guy had 6-9% Neanderthal DNA, and it is thought the Neanderthal contributor may have been only a few generations back.
jonesdave
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 30, 2016
Personally, without any real evidence to call upon, I think that most of the factors in their extinction that have already been mentioned, may have played a part.
Europeans certainly bred with aboriginal Australians. They also killed many of them. Their diseases no doubt took their toll also. Sheer weight of numbers of the incomers would probably have played a part. Competition for resources, technology etc, etc.
We'll never know for sure, but all of those likely played a part, possibly simultaneously in the same area.
Whydening Gyre
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 31, 2016
If it has a hole, someone will put their dick in it. Same was true millions of years ago as today.


I know, right? There's always someone who says "I'd hit it."

'Specially if there was alcohol involved...
HeloMenelo
not rated yet Jul 31, 2016
monkey goooraclllle, where are youuuuuu, were talking about your cousins over heeeereee... :D
24volts
5 / 5 (1) Jul 31, 2016
If it has a hole, someone will put their dick in it. Same was true millions of years ago as today.


I know, right? There's always someone who says "I'd hit it."

'Specially if there was alcohol involved...


Which may possibly be the actual reason why we DO have a percentage of their DNA.... A few cups of fermented berry wine and........
Whydening Gyre
3 / 5 (2) Jul 31, 2016
Which may possibly be the actual reason why we DO have a percentage of their DNA.... A few cups of fermented berry wine and........

The difference between a dog and a fox?
A six pack...

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