Or at least, that’s the conclusion of a paper which models the population changes and other factors involved.
- New model to study hominin interactions in time-varying climate environment.
- Neanderthals experienced rapid population decline due to competitive exclusion.
- Interbreeding only minor contributor to Neanderthal extinction.
- Abrupt Climate Change not major cause for demise of Neanderthals.
Of course, a model is only as good as the assumptions that go into it. But if it holds, Neanderthals went extinct due to competition from anatomically modern humans, as we migrated into Europe. The alternate hypotheses, assimilation from interbreeding or climate change, turn out to be minor factors.
I’ve never thought the idea that climate change was responsible made much sense. The Neanderthals survived for hundreds of thousands of years through a wide variety of climate change events before we showed up.
The assimilation hypothesis in recent years seemed compelling, and there’s still reasons to think there was at least some assimilation, not the least that all non-Africans have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. But if the model is correct, it wasn’t the primary reason why they disappeared as a population.
Hank Campbell points out that it’s still possible we transmitted some disease(s) to them, similar to what happened when Europeans first arrived in the Americas and smallpox devastated native American populations. But resource competition, again according to the model, seems more likely.
That said, I’ll be interested to see what public anthropologists such as John Hawks make of this.