Neanderthals Went Extinct Much Earlier Than Thought

7

Popular theories have placed the Neanderthal extinction at about 35,000 years ago, based on dating of the earliest bone fossils found at a Neanderthal site in southern Iberia. However, researchers from Australia and Europe are now refuting that evidence after taking another careful look at the bones and implementing an improved method to filter out contamination. Based on the new study, the Neanderthal may have actually died out much earlier, closer to 50,000 years ago.

This new theory shakes up the popular belief that has been held in place for some 20 years. It was a widely accepted fact Homo neanderthalensis persisted in southern Iberia while modern humans (homo sapiens) were advancing in the same region. But the international study, in which researchers from the Spanish National Distance Education University (UNED) participated, pokes holes in that hypothesis.

If the new evidence holds any weight, then the popular theory that modern humans and Neanderthals co-existed—and possibly even interbred—for millennia has just been shot down, especially as another hugely accepted theory shows modern humans didn’t settle in the region until 42,000 years ago.

The new study used the improved dating method “ultrafiltration,” a technique that removes modern carbon that can contaminate ancient collagen in bones. Using the new method, lead researcher Dr. Rachel Wood, of Australian National University (ANU), and her colleagues tested 215 bones from 11 sites where previous radiocarbon dating had supported the later survival of Neanderthals. The study is published today (Feb. 4) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The team found the vast majority of the bones contained insufficient collagen to be successfully dated. But of those that could be tested, Wood and her colleagues found enough evidence that placed the earliest record to be about 50,000 years ago at two separate sites.

Wood said the new evidence doesn’t completely exclude the possibility that Neanderthals lived until 35,000 years ago. Because radiocarbon testing couldn’t be accurately completed on many of the fossils, it’s possible some may have been from a later period. But for the two of the 11 sites examined, Wood says the evidence suggests Neanderthals died out 50,000 years ago.

Written By: Lawrence LeBlond
continue to source article at redorbit.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting, especially since the BBC just showed a program with Eddie Izzard (an English comedian) which traced his ancestry via his DNA and they said that he (and lots of others) have Neanderthal DNA as a part of their DNA, proving that we interbred.

  2. I think there is still controversy regarding interbreeding. Whether it took place in Europe as our ancestors advanced or whether it took place before Homo Sapiens left Africa – assuming, of course, that the Neanderthals also originated in Africa but left long before we did. In reply to #1 by jel:

    Interesting, especially since the BBC just showed a program with Eddie Izzard…

  3. In reply to #2 by stuhillman:

    I think there is still controversy regarding interbreeding. Whether it took place in Europe as our ancestors advanced or whether it took place before Homo Sapiens left Africa – assuming, of course, that the Neanderthals also originated in Africa but left long before we did. In reply to #1 by jel:

    Interesting, especially since the BBC just showed a program with Eddie Izzard…

    Actually Neanderthals did not originate from Africa but from a Homo erectus population that left Africa before African erectus gave rise to modern humans. There are studies done that suggest that every population of modern humans from outside of Africa has between 2% to 5% neanderthal genes (or something like that)

    The mixing might have taken place in the middle east as there was Neanderthals there and it was one of the first stops for humans outside of Africa, before they split up and went each their way (east and west).

    It might therefore not matter for the mixing of genes if neanderthals was alive in europe at the same time as modern humans, as long as they met in the middle east. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal#Interbreeding_hypotheses

  4. In reply to #3 by Martin Torp Dahl:

    Actually Neanderthals did not originate from Africa but from a Homo erectus population that left Africa before African erectus gave rise to modern humans.

    I agree with your comment. However, I believe Neanderthals and sapiens probably both evolved from heidelbergensis, the former in Eurasia, the latter in Africa.

  5. In reply to #4 by gzahn:

    Let’s keep in mind that this is one paper with a sample size of TWO, from one locality. I would be interested if more evidence pointed this way, but this paper isn’t much of a shake-up really.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/110/8/2781.short

    Well said, and note how, in the first paragraph, the article says those doing the new research are “refuting” the previous theory, though it should say “rebutting” or “querying”. But then that wouldn’t be exciting enough, would it?

  6. In reply to #4 by gzahn:

    Let’s keep in mind that this is one paper with a sample size of TWO, from one locality. I would be interested if more evidence pointed this way, but this paper isn’t much of a shake-up really.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/110/8/2781.short

    I think you are spot on with that observation. The new ‘theory’ is one hypothesis among many coming out recently. Last year a Cambridge university http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/aug/14/study-doubt-human-neanderthal-interbreeding suggested humans share dna though a common ancestor not through interbreeding.
    So even if the last Neanderthal died 35 thousand years ago that doesn’t mean the interbreeding hypothesis is validated.

Leave a Reply