‘Modern’ humans helped drive out Neanderthals

Our ancestors – rather than climate change – were responsible for driving Neanderthals to extinction in Europe, new research has shown.

Evidence suggests the distant cousins of early modern humans had already started to decline, long before a massive volcanic eruption plunged Europe into deep freeze.

Based on a study of volcanic ash layers, scientists now believe climate was not the major factor in the Neanderthals’ demise.

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Instead, it is more likely they were simply out-performed by early members of our species, Homo sapiens, who had migrated from Africa.

Most experts agree that Neanderthals could not compete for natural resources with early modern humans, who had better tools, weapons, and communication skills.

But some believe climate played a major role in their extinction.

A catastrophic event around 40,000 years ago, Europe’s biggest ever volcanic eruption, the Campanian Ignimbrite in Italy, may have sent temperatures plummeting as clouds of ash blocked out the sun.

But researchers said Neanderthals and early modern humans “seem to have been more resilient to environmental crises than previously supposed”.

They concluded: “Our evidence indicates that, on a continental scale, modern humans were a greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than the largest known volcanic eruption in Europe, even if combined with the 
deleterious effects of climate cooling.”