News / Science & Technology

    Study: Our Life with Neanderthals Was No Brief Affair

    FILE - A girl looks through the replica of a Neanderthal skull displayed at the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, Croatia.
    FILE - A girl looks through the replica of a Neanderthal skull displayed at the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, Croatia.
    Reuters

    Far from wiping out Neanderthals overnight, modern humans rubbed along with their shorter and stockier cousins for thousands of years, giving plenty of time for the two groups to share ideas - and have sex.

    The most accurate timeline yet for the demise of our closest relatives, published on Wednesday, shows Neanderthals overlapped with present-day humans in Europe for between 2,600 and 5,400 years before disappearing about 40,000 years ago.

    Pinpointing how and when the Neanderthals became extinct has been tough because the mainstay process of radiocarbon dating is unreliable for samples that are more than 30,000 years old, due to contamination.

    The latest six-year project by researchers at the University of Oxford used modern methods to remove contaminants and accurately date nearly 200 samples of bone, charcoal and shell from 40 important archeological sites across Europe.

    The data showed that Neanderthals vanished from Europe between 39,000 and 41,000 years ago - but rather than being replaced rapidly by modern humans, their disappearance occurred at different times across sites from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.

    “Now that we are using better techniques, the picture is becoming much more clear in terms of the process by which Neanderthals disappeared from Europe,” said lead researcher Tom Higham. “Our results suggest there was a mosaic of populations.”

    Scientists already know from DNA evidence that there was some interbreeding between the two groups, although it is not clear whether this occurred once or many times. Recent studies have suggested between 1.5 and 2.1 percent of the DNA of modern non-African human populations originates from Neanderthals.

    “In a way, our close cousins, as Neanderthals are, aren't extinct,” according to Higham. “They carry on in us today.”

    Paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the research, said the new findings were “striking” and backed up the idea that modern humans and Neanderthals may have learnt from each other.

    He believes interbreeding probably first occurred in Asia soon after modern humans began to leave Africa around 60,000 years ago, so the latest evidence indicates the two populations may have been in some kind of contact for up to 20,000 years - much longer than in Europe alone.

    Not so dim-witted

    Many scientists now reject the notion that Neanderthals were dim-witted brutes and point to evidence of use of symbolic objects, which may have been learnt from modern humans.

    The Oxford team dated a number of items from sites of so-called transitional stone tool industries - viewed as either the work of the last of the Neanderthals or early modern humans - and found they were all between 40,000 and 45,000 years old, indicating a period of possible cultural exchange.

    Interestingly, they found no evidence that Neanderthals and modern humans lived particularly closely together. Rather, Neanderthals probably survived in dwindling populations in pockets of Europe before dying out altogether.

    It is unclear what killed off the Neanderthals, although theories include an inability to adapt to climate change and increased economic competition from more agile modern humans.

    While the latest work provides the most robust timeline so far of the last days of the Neanderthals, there are still gaps in coverage, particularly in Siberia and eastern regions of Eurasia. That is something the researchers plan to address in follow-up investigations.

    “Ultimately, our aim is to create kind of movies that show the arrival and departure of different sub-species of humans across Europe,” Higham said in an interview filmed in his lab. “We are part-way towards that but there is a still a lot more work we can do.”

    Some scientists have hypothesized that late-surviving groups of Neanderthals lived in places such as Gibraltar after 40,000 years ago, but the latest dating provides no evidence of this, according to the Oxford team, whose findings were published in the journal Nature.

    You May Like

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora