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Cold, Dry Climate Responsible For Neanderthal Disappearance

Cold, Dry Climate Shifts Linked to Neanderthal Disappearance

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Neanderthal
Visitors take pictures of models representing Flores, human and Neanderthal women in the "Musee des Confluences," a new science and anthropology museum in Lyon, central France, Dec. 18, 2014. Neanderthals had a long run in Europe, but disappeared about 40,000 years ago after modern humans showed up. (VOA)

Ancient periods of cold and dry climate helped our species replace Neanderthal in Europe, a study suggests.

Researchers found that such cold periods coincided with an apparent disappearance of our evolutionary cousins in different parts of the continent, and the appearance of our species, Homo sapiens.

“Whether they moved or died out, we can’t tell,” said Michael Staubwasser of the University of Cologne in Germany.

Neanderthals once lived in Europe and Asia but died out about 40,000 years ago, just a few thousand years after our species, Homo sapiens, arrived in Europe. Scientists have long debated what happened, and some have blamed the change in climate. Other proposed explanations have included epidemics and the idea that the newcomers edged out the Neanderthals for resources.

Staubwasser and colleagues reported their findings Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They drew on existing climate, archaeological and ecological data and added new indicators of ancient climate from studies of two caves in Romania.

Their study highlighted two cold and dry periods. One began about 44,000 years ago and lasted about 1,000 years. The other began about 40,800 years ago and lasted six centuries. The timing of those events matches the periods when artifacts from Neanderthals disappear and signs of H. sapiens appear in sites within the Danube River valley and in France, they noted.

Neanderthal model
Neanderthal model. Reconstruction of a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) based on the La Chapelle-aux-Saints fossils. Neanderthals inhabited Europe and western Asia between 230,000 and 29,000 years ago. They did not use complex tools but had mastery of fire and built shelters. It is thought that they had language and a complex social structure, living in small family groups and hunting for food. It is not known why Neanderthals became extinct, but one theory is that they were outcompeted by modern humans (Homo sapiens). Reconstruction by Elisabeth Daynes of the Daynes Studio, Paris, France.

The climate shifts would have replaced forest with shrub-filled grassland, and H. sapiens may have been better adapted to that new environment than the Neanderthals were, so they could move in after Neanderthals disappeared, the researchers wrote.

Katerina Harvati, a Neanderthal expert at the University of Tuebingen in Germany who wasn’t involved in the study, said it’s helpful to have the new climate data from southeastern Europe, a region that H. sapiens is thought to have used to spread through the continent.

But she said it’s unclear whether Neanderthals disappeared and H. sapiensappeared at the times the authors indicate, because the studies they cite rely on limited evidence and are sometimes open to dispute.

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Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London said he thought the paper made a good case for an impact of the climate shifts on Neanderthals, although he believes other factors were also at work in their disappearance.

Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution called the study “a refreshing new look” at the species replacement.

“As has been said before, our species didn’t outsmart the Neanderthals,” Potts said in an email. “We simply outsurvived them. The new paper offers much to contemplate about how it occurred.” (VOA)

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British Parliament To Vote On Withdrawal Agreement Negotiated With The EU

Some lawmakers have proposed holding a second referendum like the one in 2016 that set Britain on the path toward leaving the EU.

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Britain, European Union, May
Anti-Brexit supporters hold European Union flags as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament on Jan. 14, 2019. VOA

Britain’s parliament votes Tuesday on the withdrawal agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government negotiated with the European Union.

May canceled a previous vote in December when it was clear she did not have enough votes for the deal to pass, and since then little seems to have changed.

Both pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers oppose the terms of the agreement. May sought to garner last-minute support Monday by asking them to examine it again while warning of the consequences if the deal fails.

The biggest point of contention has been the arrangement to have an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland that would keep Britain in some way tied to EU trade policies until the two sides can negotiate a new trade deal.

In a Tuesday radio interview International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said it was not acceptable for the unelected House of Lords to try to block the democratic will of the British people, who voted by a 52-48 margin in June, 2016 to leave the EU.
The Independent newspaper Tuesday night reported that May was preparing for a Brexit meeting with select cabinet ministers Wednesday at which they will try to come up with a joint position on post-withdrawal customs relations following rejection of Britain’s existing proposals. wikimedia commons

EU leaders said Monday the so-called “backstop” arrangement would only be in place as long as necessary.

Negotiators from Britain and the European Union agreed to the terms of the Brexit deal in November after difficult talks, and if the British parliament votes against the agreement there is great uncertainty about what will happen next.

Also Read: Brexit Consequences Getting Tougher for Theresa May

May would have until next Monday to put forth a new proposal. There is also the chance Britain could reach its March 29 withdrawal deadline with no terms in place to specify just how it will relate to the European Union when it is no longer a member.

Some lawmakers have proposed holding a second referendum like the one in 2016 that set Britain on the path toward leaving the EU. Others want parliament to take control of the Brexit process from May and her Cabinet. (VOA)