The Mysterious Downfall of the Neandertals

The standard theories of why Neandertals disappeared 28,000 years ago don't hold up, so scientists are looking in new directions. The assimilation/interbreeding theory should've yielded some DNA evidence, but there is none. The replacement/war theory isn't as cut and dried as it could be, since modern humans lived in the same territories as Neandertals for 15,000 years. Climate change? Sure, the earth was cooling at the time, but Neandertals had lived through ice ages before.
But the isotope data reveal that far from progressing steadily from mild to frigid, the climate became increasingly unstable heading into the last glacial maximum, swinging severely and abruptly. With that flux came profound ecological change: forests gave way to treeless grassland; reindeer replaced certain kinds of rhinoceroses. So rapid were these oscillations that over the course of an individual’s lifetime, all the plants and animals that a person had grown up with could vanish and be replaced with unfamiliar flora and fauna. And then, just as quickly, the environment could change back again.

Scientists are looking into the idea that Neandertals just weren't as adaptable as modern humans, and over time lost out in the competition for resources in a changing world. Link -via Metafilter

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Actually, I misspoke. The Younger Dryas was an example of rapid climate change. As the world's climate was coming out of the last ice age, something happened (possibly the draining of giant Lake Agassiz into the North Atlantic) that reversed the warming trend in the northern hemisphere back into a glacial climate. The Younger Dryas took place 12,900–11,500 years ago. The change in temperature was not as abrupt as what we're currently seeing with increases of 2-3°C in Alaska and Siberia just since the 1950s. The Younger Dryas was perhaps 10°C degrees cooler at its coldest.
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"Getting bogged down in a marsh, falling into "riparian" gullies, getting mired in sticky mudflows, falling through the thin ice of a lake, and getting caught in river bank cave-ins of river ice are some of the hazards mammoths would face. Judging by what they were eating, it appears that the time of death was usually late summer or early fall, precisely the time when melting and solifluction would have been at a maximum and travel most dangerous. Most of their remains are associated with river valleys and fluviatile and terrestrial sediment. There is no direct evidence that any mammoth simply froze to death." (Farrand, 1961)
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Foreigner1, the reports of frozen mammoths with well-preserved flesh are greatly exaggerated.
There are only a handful of mammoth remains found with any flesh remaining. In all cases, the internal organs were rotted, or the body was partly eaten by scavengers, or both, BEFORE the animal became frozen. "The Berezovka mammoth, perhaps the most famous example, showed evidence of very slow decay and was putrefied to the point that the excavators found its stench unbearable." (Weber 1980)
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Say Evil Merodach-
If you say "The environmental change (into a glaciated period) was over many thousands of years — not decades as we are seeing now. Climate change has always taken place over many thousands of years. What we’re seeing now is unprecedented." -What do you make of the rather quick changes that did happen in freezings? A man I've worked with in my own job has done some diggings on a few mammoths in Syberia that show all the signs of flash-freezing with food in their stomachs that stem from a moderate climate while those animals have frozen to death and got entombed in ice within a week.
And such changes can be found all over the tundra and even in the fossil record all over the North Sea region.

Theories of what caused these fast changes range from hightened global volcanic activity and changes in the magnetic flux of our planet to our complete solar system passing trough clouds of cosmic dust that blocked sunlight.
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