More Recent Research on Neandertals

We have previously posted here and here on Homo neanderthalensis, with of course the really big news this year being the Max Planck Institute’s discovery that Neandertals likely interbred with early Homo sapiens, and that present-day non-Africans have inherited a genetic contribution from Neandertal forebears of anywhere from 1 to 4%.

João Zilhão’s team working in Southeastern Spain also recently reports dating evidence for “evolutionarily significant admixture” between neanderthalenesis and modern humans, as well as evidence for the decorative and symbolic use of painted seashells prior to contact with Cro-Magnons (For Zilhão’s work, please refer to the second of the posts noted above.).

Now we have word that Neaderthals who lived in southern Italy could also innovate new technologies on their own.  Anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Colorado at Denver has identified a Neandertal tool culture there that he refers to as the Uluzzian — in contrast to the Mousterian (an earlier tool culture also associated with Neandertals) and the Aurignacian of the early Homo sapiens or Cro-Magnons.  Evidence suggests that Neandertals of the Uluzzian adapted their tool technology to changes in climate which necessitated a shift to the hunting of smaller game using darts and arrows.  This innovation flies in the face of the long-held view that neanderthalensis was backward relative to early modern humans.

Still another widely accepted idea is that Neandertals were gradually wiped out by Cro-Magnons as they came into contact with one another in Europe between 30 and 40 thousand years ago — or at least that early moderns out-competed them for scarce resources, thus indirectly causing their extinction.

But there is a now a new theory that Neandertals may have been killed off by a series of volcanoes which erupted in Italy and the Caucasus approximately 40,000 years ago.  The new study which appears in this month’s issue of Current Anthropology suggests that the “eruptions reduced or wiped out local bands of Neanderthals and indirectly affected farther-flung populations” in Europe where most of the Neandertals were concentrated at this time.

At any rate, there has been lots of Neandertal news this year, and I don’t think it would be too big a leap to say we have the makings of a paradigm shift in our understanding of our most famous archaic hominid.  Stay tuned for further updates.

You can find a list of some of Greensboro Public Library’s books on human origins at this previous post.

Update:  Here’s another article on the volcanoe theory from Science Daily.

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2 Responses

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  2. […] Check out our previous posts on Neandertals here, here, and here. […]

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