Climate change may have been crucial behind the extinction of Neanderthals (an extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans in the genus Homo) as per a new study published in the journal - Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences. The detailed journal and natural records from stalagmites by a team of researchers from a number of European and American research institutions, highlight changes in the European climate 40,000 years ago. As per the study, the researchers have found several cold periods that clash with timings hinting the impact climate had on the Neanderthal man.
Stalagmites grow in mini thin layers every year and any change in climate affects their chemical composition. The thin layers hence preserve a natural heritage of climate change over thousands of years.
The researchers examined stalagmites in two Romanian caves, which gave out more details of the climate change in Europe as it showed a series of extreme cold and dry conditions around 40,000 – 44,000 years ago. They highlighted the fact that the temperatures dropped abruptly affecting Neanderthals.
After comparing it to these palaeoclimate records with archaeological records of Neanderthals – the researchers found relations between the climate changes – known as stadials. And it indicates that the population at that time got affected during the cold periods, hinting that climate change played a crucial role in their decline.
This indicates the Neanderthal population greatly reduced during the cold periods, suggesting that climate change played a role in their decline.
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Dr Vasile Ersek, the co-author of the study and a senior lecturer in physical geography in Northumbria University's Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, explained that the Neanderthals were species closest to outs and lived for some 3,50,000 years. However, they became extinct after the last Ice Age and shortly after the arrival of humans in Europe.
Neanderthals were extremely skilled hunters and controllers of fire but lived largely on animal meat. These food sources became scare during colder times, making the Neanderthals more vulnerable to rapid changes of environment.
"Before now, we did not have climate records from the region where Neanderthals lived which had the necessary age accuracy and resolution to establish a link between when Neanderthals died out and the timing of these extreme cold periods," Dr Ersek said, adding "But our findings indicate that the Neanderthal populations successively decreased during the repeated cold stadials.
"When temperatures warmed again, their smaller populations could not expand as their habitat was also being occupied by modern humans and this facilitated a staggered expansion of modern humans into Europe.