London, May 1
Debunking earlier theories that Neanderthals disappeared owing to modern human superiority in matters related to life, a significant research reveals that complex interbreeding and assimilation may have been responsible for the disappearance 40,000 years ago.
Neanderthals thrived in Eurasia for more than 300,000 years but vanished around 40,000 years ago – around the same time that modern humans entered Europe.
Several theories suggest that modern-day humans were superior in a wide range of ways including weaponry and subsistence strategies.
This superiority may have eventually led to the demise of Neanderthals.
“However, new evidence, including genetic data, suggest that differences between Neanderthals and modern humans in Africa may not be so clear as previously thought,” said Paola Villa from University of Colorado Museum and Wil Roebroeks from Leiden University in the Netherlands.
In this study, scientists systematically tested the strength of some of the archaeologically derived explanations for Neanderthal extinction.
These were Neanderthals’ supposed lack of complex language, inferior capacity for innovation, inferior hunting ability, and smaller social networks, as well as other environmental explanations, including harsh climate or volcanic eruptions that occurred at the time of their decline.
The researchers found that the differences between Neanderthals and humans in their capacities like weaponry, subsistence, and use of symbols are too small to explain their demise in terms of cognitive or behavioural inferiority.
Instead, the authors argue, genetic data recently obtained from Neanderthal skeletal remains suggest that complex and drawn-out processes of interbreeding and assimilation may have been responsible for the Neanderthals’ disappearance.
The study appeared in the open access journal PLOS ONE.