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I know several theories are proposed to explain Neanderthal extinction:

  • Consanguinity.
  • Homo Sapiens competence.
  • Climate change.

But Finlayson et al (2008) quote the last ones lived south of the Iberian Peninsula. This make me think Europe's climate was too cold for them, so they migrated to South.

This surprises me as I have allways considered Neanderthal a cold specie adaptated to glaciar.

The oldest potential Neanderthal bones are dated to 430 kya (Neanderthal, Wikipedia); they had faced to a previous glaciation and they survived.

enter image description here

I am not asking if the climate related extinction theory is the correct one. I am asking if there are evidences the climate on Europe was too cold for this specie. Also I would like to know if there are evidences they also migrated to South in the previous glaciar peak, around 150 kya ago.


Clive Finlayson, Darren A. Fa, Francisco Jiménez Espejo, Jóse S. Carrión, Geraldine Finlayson, Francisco Giles Pacheco, Joaquín Rodríguez Vidal, Chris Stringer, Francisca Martínez Ruiz (2008): "Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar—The persistence of a Neanderthal population". Quaternary International, Volume 181, Issue 1, Pages 64-71, ISSN 1040-6182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2007.11.016.

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First things first, the reasons for the Neandertal(N) extinction are not known definitely. There is though no evidence of violence (*).

There is an overlap in Europe of N and anatomically modern humans (AMH) of several thousand years, even if N find sites are limited to the Mousterien industry alone. This is a conservative limit because N may have used more advanced technology like blade production as well in their last millennia, which would extend N presence to ~32,000BP. Sites like Gorham's Cave fit into that picture, but this long chronology of N is debated and counterdebated :-)). Anyway, long before the last glacial maximum (~23 to 20ky BP) they were gone.

Somewhat outdated is the view that N is a cold adaptation of the human lineage. The appearance of tools for clothing (bone needles) drastically rise with the Aurignacien, the first stone tool industry linked to AMH in Europe. That of course does not mean N didn't use clothes, but that they probably had not the same proficiency as Cro Magnon & consorts in making them. Correlation of find sites and climate confirm the picture that N avoided cold climates. N populations were smaller than AMH, though not really endangered by genetic bottlenecks (there is newer work concerning Denisovans, stating they never really split from N, but i can't find it).

By now it pretty clear that N and AMH interbred on many occasions.

So why did they become extinct ? Together with other ice age megafauna in a highly stressed environment, loosing their way of subsistence ? Competition of top predators ? Inbreading nevertheless ? Dwindling numbers and simple merge with AMH ? Bad luck ? Unclear ...

(*) I want to add a remark here to the Shanidar 3 guy mentioned below. First of all, the authors do not exclude an accident. Second, the work has been criticized by Trinkaus et al. for methodological errors, as is cited here. Similar arguments apply to St. Cesaire 1 (healed skull fracture) is likely an accident, the argument for an intentional blow is too weak. I do not categorically exclude violence in the Paleolithic, the accusation is unfair, I only say there is no (undisputed) evidence. The Shanidar burials, as well e.g. La Chapelle aux Saints 1 are seen as examples for compassion for those in need of care among N. Btw.: we haven't been at the meat of that yet, but i am not handing out fuel against my argumentation ;-)

It was stated that

"Our ancestors killed the males of other tribes and raped the few remaining females. That our ancestors killed Neandertals who looked rather different is not a far stretch from killing other anatomically modern humans who looked only slightly different."

Both claims are not backed by science, Cro Magnon and Neandertals were not that different (reconstructions Neandertal Museum, Mettmann, Germany) and normal people don't just attack others. Hunting strategies of late N and AMH in the early Aurignacien don't differ by much.

That men were killed and woman stolen happened in very isolated cases in the Neolithic and contemporary Mesolithic, and violence also becomes evident in the Epipaleolithic/Neolithic precursors ~10kyBP , in sedentary or semi-sedentary groups, but that's not the point here. Rather not did it happen in the cold steppe of oxygen isotope stage 3 in Paleolithic Europe for obvious reasons: when the loss of a hunter could endanger the whole group; and women - having one child at a time to keep up the pace of mobility - moved around with the group. At the time 40kyBP population was low, it must rather be assumed that any accidental meeting was a cause of celebration and interchange, as is reflected in the genome.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jan 20 at 9:07
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You are quite right in assuming that Neanderthals were cold adapted, all authorities agree they were and probably to a greater extent than rival modern humans. There is no evidence that the climate during the ice age was too cold for Neanderthals, but that doesn't necessarily mean it had nothing to do with their demise.

The coming of the ice age meant that there was increased competition for scarce resources. For example, the best place for humans without modern housing to live in bitter weather is a cave. There are only a limited number of caves. Summers were shorter, and the fruits and vegetables of summer more limited, so modern man would have resented the increased competition from people who were very unlike themselves.

It is a characteristic of modern humans that we tend to favour our own kind and to discriminate against people who differ from us. The white man's ill treatment of other races is a well known historical example of that. Modern humans, with their aggressive natures, would have forced the Neanderthals away from scarce resources and if necessary killed in order to do so. There is no evidence that the behavioural characteristics of Homo Sapiens Sapiens were any different during the last ice age than they are today.

There was also some interbreeding, perhaps because there was a surplus of Neanderthal women after skirmishes between tribes (in modern times this seems to have been true in Australia, where during the 19th century male aborigines were often indiscriminately killed). The competition for resources in ice age Europe would have been more intense in the north, where resources were fewer, and this may well have, over many centuries, exerted pressure on Neanderthals to drift south.

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    $\begingroup$ Science says: N was not cold adapted, N ate meat, though their diet included herbs and nuts. "Fruits and vegetables" in the Paleolithic is nonsense. As is "white man's ill treatment". Subsistence was fundamentally different, "skirmishes between tribes" is just more nonsense, and there are no hints of competition or "pressure" either. Read the links i provided. What you wrote has no scientific background, there is no understanding of quaternary ecology, and it reflects tabloid style images of an early 19th century understanding of human interactions. $\endgroup$ – user18607 Jan 18 at 12:20

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