The dark and gloomy weather of northern Europe caused the Neanderthals to develop bigger eyes—but their improved vision turned out to be their downfall, a new study finds. More of the Neanderthal brain was devoted to vision at the expense of high-level processing, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with the challenges posed by the last ice age and causing them to go extinct around 28,000 years ago, researchers say.
In sunnier Africa, meanwhile, our species was developing frontal lobes and higher thinking ability, making us better able to adapt to changing conditions after spreading across the globe. "Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking," the lead researcher tells the BBC. (Read more Neanderthals stories.)