Speculations on Neanderthalsby Jonathan DuHamel on Nov. 18, 2011, under General Science
Researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Colorado have come up with a new idea on the demise of the Neanderthals: “Neanderthals were gradually absorbed within the expanding modern human populations until they eventually disappeared as a distinctly separate human population and phenotype.”
Using data from 167 Pleistocene assemblages across western Eurasia, the researchers claim to have tracked “behavioral changes in Western Eurasia over a period of 100,000 years and showed that human mobility increased over time, probably in response to environmental change….[T]he last Ice Age saw hunter-gathers, including both Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans, range more widely across Eurasia searching for food during a major shift in the Earth’s climate.” The time period involved was about 128,000 to 11,500 years ago which spans the most recent glacial epoch and part of its preceding interglacial period.
The study results are based on computer modeling, and therefore subject to influence by the assumptions made in the model. However, Michael Barton, study co-author from Arizona State University says: “We tested the modeling results against the empirical archaeological record and found that there is evidence that Neanderthals, and moderns, did adapt their behaviors in the way in which we modeled.” “Moreover, the modeling predicts the kind of low-level genetic admixture of Neanderthal genes that are being found in the newest genetic studies just now being published.”
The study is “Modeling Human Ecodynamics and Biocultural Interactions in the Late Pleistocene of Western Eurasia” published in Human Ecology, abstract here.