Nov 1, 2017

Human migration into Europe may have brought Neanderthals' demise

The skeletons of a chimpanzee (left), modern human (center) and neanderthal (right) on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Photo: Dima Gavrysh / AP

The slow and steady migration of humans from Africa into Europe was enough to kill off the existing Neanderthal population there, according to a new study in Nature Communications.

Why it matters: "For decades, modern human scientists assumed there must have been something wrong with the Neanderthals — or something right with us — that led to their extinction," the Washington Post reports. But researchers found that although natural selection may have had a role in the survival of modern humans, Neanderthals would have gone extinct regardless. "It's a subtle distinction but it's important," scientist Oren Kolodny told the Post.

The backdrop: For a time, around 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals and humans co-existed in Europe. To figure out why humans survived but Neanderthals went extinct, researchers built a computer model of interactions between populations of the two species. The model showed that, in 12,000 years, the Neanderthal population became extinct, even without added factors of climate change or selective evolutionary advantages in humans.

Go deeper