New Work on Neandertals

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New Work on Neandertals

Postby Roger Stanyard » Sun Jan 06, 2008 9:41 pm

I must admit I am confused by the following paper. It seems to contradict my understanding of the last 35,000 years or so in Europe.

Climate Change Put Big Chill on Neandertals, Study Says

James Owen
for National Geographic News
January 3, 2008

Neandertals in western Europe were ravaged by an increasingly
hostile climate rather than an invasion of modern humans, according
to new research.

Beset by freezing conditions and food shortages, populations of
Neandertals (often spelled "Neanderthals") dwindled between 40,000
and 35,000 years ago, the research suggests.

Modern humans, meanwhile, didn't settle western Europe until much
later than had been thought, the study says.
The findings challenge the commonly held view that modern humans
migrated to Europe from Africa about 40,000 years ago and quickly
outcompeted or slaughtered their hairy, thickset cousins.
Instead, the new research supports the theory that Neandertals gave
rise to the first modern humans in Europe.

Neandertals were the prehistoric ancestors of western Europeans,
said Eugène Morin of Canada's Trent University in Ontario, lead
author of the new study.

Morin argues that Neandertal populations thinned out gradually as
Europe's environment became harsher, with some groups going extinct.
But climate stresses may have wrought evolutionary adaptations in
surviving Neandertals, leading them to develop characteristics like
those of modern humans, Morin added.
"Neandertals adapted to this harsher climate by expanding their
social networks, a process that allowed the diffusion of 'modern
traits' into the Neandertal gene pool," he said.
Some modern humans may have migrated to Europe during this period,
Morin added, "but I don't think it happened to the large scale
implied by many scholars."

Such an influx probably didn't occur until about 10,000 years ago,
with the spread of agriculture from the Middle East, he said. (See
an interactive map of ancient human migration

The new study, published in the current issue of the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences, is based on mammal remains from
Saint-Césaire, a Stone Age site in southwestern France.

Analysis of bones found there suggests a decrease in the variety of
large mammals that prehistoric hunters would have targeted, the
study found.

Prey species found at the site include bison, horses, red deer, and

Unlike the other species, however, reindeer became increasingly
abundant about 40,000 years ago, the evidence suggests.
The ratio of reindeer bones at the French site rose from 35 to 87
percent during this period, Morin said, indicating a rapidly cooling

Remains of a tundra-dwelling rodent species, the narrow-skulled
vole, likewise suggest suddenly colder conditions.
"About 40,000 years ago, the diversity of animals that could be
hunted shrank severely, and that would have impacted human
populations," Morin said.

This shift coincides with a period called the Middle/Upper
Paleolithic transition, a period marked by significant changes in
early-human culture, including the use of more sophisticated stone
tools, he added.
But "there were fewer people around after the transition than
before," he said.
Neandertals' reliance on reindeer would have been especially risky,
since the mammals experienced extreme fluctuations in population,
Morin said.
"This was also likely to have impacted human populations that
depended on them," the anthropologist said.
Furthermore, if large mammals such as bison and horses were frozen
out of the region, there wouldn't have been enough prey to support
incoming modern-human migrants from Africa, he added.

Were Modern Humans More Prepared?

Paul Mellars, professor of human evolution at the University of
Cambridge, U.K., said the new study provides a good analysis of the
mammal fauna and climate during the transition period.

The new findings are supported by evidence from deep seabed
sediments that indicate a dramatic drop in temperature of at least
14.4 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius), Mellars said.
"This occurs pretty well at precisely the time that you get the
transition," he added.
But the Saint-Césaire site also shows an abrupt transition in
artifacts that only an invasion by modern humans can explain,
Mellars said.
Entirely different stone-tool technologies suddenly appear in the
region, he said.
"Just on the basis of the technology alone, it looks like a sudden
population replacement of Neandertals by modern humans [took
place]," Mellars commented.
Evidence from similarly dated human bones also indicates the
presence of anatomically modern humans that spread from the east
across Europe, he noted.
Mellars said other researchers argue that the dramatic climatic
cooling highlighted by the study would have given incoming modern
humans, with their more advanced tools, a competitive advantage over
the Neandertals.

These tools included new kinds of projectile points made from bone
and antler, and small blades that attached to either spears or
arrows, he added.
"With this new technology, modern humans may simply have been better
able to cope," Mellars said.
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New Work on Neandertals

Postby Anonymous » Sun Jan 06, 2008 10:14 pm

Professor Mellars argues, as he has done for much of his academic
career, for a complete replacement of Neanderthals by Homo sapiens
sapiens. He does not recognise the arguments of Francesco d'Errico and
others of symbolic cognitively modern behaviour amongst Neanderthals. I
am in agreement with arguments which postulate interbreeding between
incoming Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

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