Freezing conditions, food shortages overwhelmed Neanderthal population in Western Europe
Washington, January 4 : A study of mammal remains from Saint-Cesaire, a
Stone Age site in southwestern France, suggests that Neanderthals in
Western Europe were ravaged by an increasingly hostile climate, rather
than the invasion of modern humans.
Eugene Morin of Canada's Trent University in Ontario, lead author of
the study, says that freezing conditions and food shortages overwhelmed
Neanderthals between 40,000 and 35,000 years ago, dwindling their populations.
The study has also revealed that modern humans did not settle in
Western Europe until much later than had been thought, contrasting the
age-old belief that humans migrated to Europe from Africa about 40,000
years ago and quickly slaughtered their hairy, thickset cousins.
It instead supports the view that Neanderthals gave rise to the first modern humans in Europe.
Morin said that as Europe's environment grew harsher, Neanderthal
populations thinned out gradually, and some groups became extinct. He,
however, added that surviving Neanderthals might have adapted
themselves to climate stresses, and later developed characteristics
similar to those of modern humans.
"Neanderthals adapted to this harsher climate by expanding their social
networks, a process that allowed the diffusion of 'modern traits' into
the Neanderthal gene pool," National Geographic quoted him as saying.
Though Morin agrees that some humans might have migrated to Europe
during that period, he does not think that it happened to "the large
scale implied by many scholars".
He said that such an influx would not have take place until about 10,000 years ago
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the
study of bones found at the French site also suggested a decrease in
the variety of large mammals that prehistoric hunters would have
Morin said that this decrease indicated a rapidly cooling climate.
"About 40,000 years ago, the diversity of animals that could be hunted
shrank severely, and that would have impacted human populations," he