The demise of the Neanderthal cannot be blamed on climate change say researchers in London.
There has been a long-standing argument about how Neanderthals became extinct – was it due to change in the climate, or was it because of competition between them and early modern humans? Academics from the RESET project believe they have settled the debate.
Marked changes in human dispersal in the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition have been attributed to a massive volcanic eruption and climactic deterioration, however new research suggests that the decline of the Neanderthal was in fact because of competition with early modern humans initiated long before the eruption took place.
The team studied volcanic ash layers from the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption, which occurred around 40,000 years ago, linking archaeological and environmental records precisely with the layers of volcanic ash – termed cryptotephra. They confirmed that the combined effect of a major volcanic eruption and severe climatic cooling failed to have lasting impacts on Neanderthals and early modern humans.
Instead, the team – which included researchers from Royal Holloway, the Natural History Museum and the Universities of Oxford and Southampton – infer that modern humans were a much greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than natural disasters.
“The RESET team has been building a ‘lattice’ of European volcanic time-lines stretching back over the last 100,000 years, of which the CI is only one,” said Professor John Lowe from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.
“Cryptotephra layers are more abundant and ubiquitous than previously imagined. The lattice is far from complete, but is already bearing fruit, and its legacy will have profound scientific impacts for years to come.”