Quantifying the potential causes of Neanderthal extinction: abrupt climate change versus competition and interbreeding

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Axel Timmermann


Anatomically Modern Humans are the sole survivor of a group of hominins that inhabited our planet during the last ice age and that included, among others, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo denisova, and Homo erectus. Whether previous hominin extinctions were triggered by external factors, such as abrupt climate change, volcanic eruptions or whether competition and interbreeding played major roles in their demise still remains unresolved. Here I present a spatially resolved numerical hominin dispersal model (HDM) with empirically constrained key parameters that simulates the migration and interaction of Anatomically Modern Humans and Neanderthals in the rapidly varying climatic environment of the last ice age. The model simulations document that rapid temperature and vegetation changes associated with Dansgaard-Oeschger events were not major drivers of global Neanderthal extinction between 50-35 thousand years ago, but played important roles regionally, in particular over northern Europe. According to a series of parameter sensitivity experiments conducted with the HDM, a realistic extinction of the Neanderthal population can only be simulated when Homo sapiens is chosen to be considerably more effective in exploiting scarce glacial f...Continue Reading

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