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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)

Next Story

Iran Doubts Europe’s Efforts To Keep Nuclear Deal Alive

Meanwhile, Vice President Pence’s hard-hitting speech at Munich has triggered fears in Europe that Washington has bigger plans, says Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

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Iran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 17, 2019. VOA

Iran says Europe’s efforts to keep the 2015 nuclear deal are failing and there is growing support among the Iranian people to restart the country’s atomic program.

“We appreciate that Europe has done a great deal politically. But it hasn’t been prepared to make an investment. It hasn’t been prepared to pay a price,” Zarif told delegates at the Munich Security Conference Sunday.

He accused the United States and Israel of seeking war with his country.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence earlier accused Europe of helping to prop up a ‘murderous’ regime in Tehran.

atomic energy
Not at all a call for ‘let’s renegotiate the deal’ but rather ‘let’s remove the regime in Tehran.’ And in that sense I think this was not interpreted as anything that Europe could accept. Pixabay

“They have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions. They call this scheme a Special Purpose Vehicle, we call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime,” Pence told delegates Saturday.

That Special Purpose Vehicle — officially known as INSTEX — is a payments system designed to allow European companies to trade with Iran and bypass U.S. sanctions, explains sanctions lawyer Nigel Kushner of London-based firm “W Legal.”

“The aim is that it will get around the U.S. secondary sanctions by not involving U.S. dollars, not involving U.S. persons, and certainly at the moment only being involved in the procurement of trade which does not include products or services that are sanctioned by the U.S. authorities,” he said.

Europe is hoping that Iran will show patience, adds Kushner.

“I think on the Iranian side, they will play a waiting game and very much hope that next year Donald Trump might not be re-elected,” he said.

But Tehran says Europe’s offer is not good enough.

“INSTEX falls short of the commitments by the E3 [European three] to save the deal. Europe needs to be willing to get wet if it wants to swim against the dangerous tide of U.S. unilateralism,” Foreign Minister Zarif said Sunday at the Munich conference.

Meanwhile, Vice President Pence’s hard-hitting speech at Munich has triggered fears in Europe that Washington has bigger plans, says Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

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“Not at all a call for ‘let’s renegotiate the deal’ but rather ‘let’s remove the regime in Tehran.’ And in that sense I think this was not interpreted as anything that Europe could accept,” she said.

Washington, which withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last year, has not explicitly called for regime change in Iran. (VOA)