Neanderthals were already going extinct when modern humans arrived in Europe. This is one less thing on our collective conscience.
(BBC)- Neanderthals were already on the verge of extinction in Europe by the time modern humans arrived on the scene, a study suggests.DNA analysis suggests most Neanderthals in western Europe died out as early as 50,000 years ago - thousands of years before our own species appeared.
A small group of Neanderthals then recolonised parts of Europe, surviving for 10,000 years before vanishing.
The work is published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
An international team of researchers studied the variation, or diversity, in mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones of 13 Neanderthals.
This type of genetic information is passed down on the maternal line; because cells contain multiple copies of the mitochondrial genome, this DNA is easier to extract from ancient remains than the DNA found in the nuclei of cells.
The fossil specimens came from Europe and Asia and span a time period ranging from 100,000 years ago to about 35,000 years ago.
The scientists found that west European fossils with ages older than 48,000 years, along with Neanderthal specimens from Asia, showed considerable genetic variation.
But specimens from western Europe younger than 48,000 years showed much less genetic diversity (a six-fold reduction in variation compared to the older remains and the Asian Neanderthals).
In their scientific paper, the scientists propose that some event - possibly changes in the climate - caused Neanderthal populations in the West to crash around 50,000 years ago. But populations may have survived in warmer southern refuges, allowing the later re-expansion.