What Really Killed Off Neanderthals (Hint: Not Us)

DNA evidence shows Ice Age probably killed most of them

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 27, 2012 5:35 PM CST

(Newser) – So we didn't kill off the Neanderthals after all. That's the conclusion of researchers who analyzed Neanderthal-bone DNA and deduced that most of them died off in Western Europe during the Ice Age, long before encountering modern humans. A small Neanderthal group lived on for about 10,000 more years after the near-extinction of their race around 50,000 years ago, the BBC reports.

"The fact that Neanderthals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans, came as a complete surprise," says the study's lead author. Their proof: Neanderthal DNA variation dropped off around the Ice Age, implying that survivors existed in a smaller group. Modern humans from the east were better able to handle the cold, the Daily Mail notes—but may not have survived if Neanderthals had also coped with the Ice Age.

Neanderthal models in the Neandertal-Museum, Dusseldorf, Germany.   (Wikipedia)
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