Did climate kill off the Neanderthals?
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News
Climate change, we're told, poses the single
gravest threat to the survival of our species.
And if the experience of our ancient relatives the
Neanderthals is anything to go by, we should take
note of the warnings.
Recent research has suggested that climate change
may have been the killer blow that finished off our
closest evolutionary cousins.
For about 400,000 years, the Neanderthals
dominated Europe, hunting big game such as
mammoth and bison.
These hardy cavemen and cavewomen survived
one Ice Age after another. But eventually, their luck
ran out. For reasons which remain unclear,
Neanderthal populations went into terminal decline.
By about 24,000 years ago, the
Neanderthals had vanished
By 35,000 years ago, the Neanderthals had
vanished from most parts of Europe. But in 2006, scientists dropped a bombshell.
They had found evidence that a small population of survivors clung on in Iberia -
modern Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar - until much more recently.
This evidence came from radiocarbon dates obtained from Neanderthal campfires in
Gorham's Cave, a natural shelter cut into the Rock of Gibraltar.
Professor Clive Finlayson led the research: "You had Neanderthals - in our opinion -
quite late from some of the dates; and by late we're talking in terms of 24,000, some
would say 28,000.
"Either way, much more recent than the latest estimates, some of which were putting
them at 30,000, the last ones; and some of them as far back as 35,000."
'A good place to stay'
Professor Jose Carrion, who researches ancient ecosystems at the University of Murcia,
Spain, comments: "Southern Iberia, especially the southern coastal shelf was an area
of high biodiversity and resources - food and water. The Neanderthals inhabited open
spaces - such as grasslands, dry lands, but also mixed oak, pine and juniper forests,
savannah, rocky habitats.
"There were various different types of animals. So there were many possibilities for
survival here. It was a good place to stay, which was not the situation at this time in
northern and central Europe."