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Neanderthals Died Out Earlier Than Thought? New Study Suggests It

Image: Neanderthals Died Out Earlier Than Thought? New Study Suggests It
A reconstruction of a Neanderthal standing at the Neandertal Museum, Mettmann, Germany. (Horst Ossinger/DPA/Landov)

By    |   Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 03:44 PM

Neanderthals may have died out 10,000 years earlier than paleoanthropologists had estimated, based on new fossil dates published in the journal Nature this week.

Timing of the Neanderthals' disappearance and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (AMH) was a "key question" in paleoanthropology, and the study authors said new dating methods allowed them to re-examine the dates of samples taken from Neanderthal caves.

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The researchers used improved accelerator mass spectrometry, as opposed to carbon dating that is limited past around 50,000 years, to examine how the two groups may have interacted in the past.

“The results reveal a significant overlap of 2,600-5,400 years (at 95.4% probability). This has important implications for models seeking to explain the cultural, technological and biological elements involved in the replacement of Neanderthals by AMHs,” the study said. “A mosaic of populations in Europe during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition suggests that there was ample time for the transmission of cultural and symbolic behaviours, as well as possible genetic exchanges, between the two groups.”

Tom Higham, a study author with the University of Oxford, told National Geographic the new research supports the idea that AMHs may have played a part in the disappearance of the Neanderthals.

The current studies used 196 samples taken from 40 Neanderthal cave sites, and dating those items found that Neanderthals decreased in population about 50,000 years ago, National Geographic said.

“In ecology when you see a species that is isolated and losing genetic diversity, you are seeing one that is often on the way out," Higham told National Geographic. "I think most of my colleagues would agree that having modern humans around played some role in the disappearance of the Neanderthals."

Not all researchers agreed with the study’s conclusions. Paleontologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis said parts of it were “wrong” and that some of the samples studied may not have been from Neanderthal times.

"This is nothing new or newsworthy," he told National Geographic by email. "We have long known that the disappearance of Neandertals was a long, slow, and complex process."

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Neanderthals may have died out 10,000 years earlier than paleoanthropologists had estimated, based on new fossil dates published in the journal Nature this week.
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Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 03:44 PM
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