Last neanderthals found near the Arctic

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ResearchBlogging.orgIt’s Europe, 48,000 years ago and things are not going well for Homo neanderthalensis.

A deteriorating climate in Central Europe forced both them and the newly arrived Homo sapiens to abandon almost the entire continent. They retreated in Spain whilst we returned to the Middle East.

When the climate returned to normal 1,000 years later it’s Homo sapiens who reaped the benefits. The Eastern Mediterranean improved before Western Europe, allowing Middle Eastern humans to spread into the continent whilst neanderthals are still trapped in Spain.

By the time they did return to their homeland they found humans already firmly established and they can’t out-compete them. They cannot live in their African brother’s shadow.

So they’re forced to retreat to marginal environments, living on the edge of the human’s territory. Some returned to Spain in a hope to stave off the inevitable. But it was not enough and eventually they succumb to extinction, disappearing ~35, 000 – 29,000 years ago.

But this was not the end of their story.

The Mousterian – a technological industry produced by neanderthals – has recently been found at Byzovaya in the Ureal mountains, near the Arctic circle.

Along with the tools were reindeer and mammoth bones, which bore the signs they had been butchered by Mousterian hunters.

Using radiocarbon dating and optical stimulation on the sediments the finds were encased in and the bones they’d damaged, the archaeologists were able to work out that the site was formed 28, 000 years ago.

The implications of this are many, particularly for those who suggest it was the primitive nature of the Mousterian that led to the neanderthal’s extinction. If it could let them hunt and kill in the far north, can it really be so backwards?

This paints a fascinating picture of the last neanderthals. Driven to the edge by modern humans overtaking their European habitat, they head north in the hope of respite. There, they find new life in their technology, along with mammoths – their favoured prey.

With such a food source they’re able to outlive the last of their kin to the south, but even such resourceful people could not survive forever. Maybe the climate on top of the world took a turn for the worse, maybe the mammoths left, or maybe there simply was not enough of them left to keep the population going….

Whatever the story, the last of the neanderthals – who had tenaciously fought off extinction at the ends of the earth – eventually succumbed.

Slimak L, Svendsen JI, Mangerud J, Plisson H, Heggen HP, Brugère A, & Pavlov PY (2011). Late Mousterian persistence near the Arctic Circle. Science (New York, N.Y.), 332 (6031), 841-5 PMID: 21566192

18 thoughts on “Last neanderthals found near the Arctic”

  1. acollectionofatoms says:

    Nice blog, its great to find someone else interested in the same things.
    Thanks for the like.

    1. sahelanthropus says:

      It is a fascinating area of knowledge, it’s wrong that it’s rare to see someone else writing about similar stuff. Especially given that when I explain what the subject is to others, they’re very interested. It’s just they’ve never heard about this stuff before.

      1. acollectionofatoms says:

        Yeah, its sad really. Evolution is the key to understanding our behavior but it’s taboo to some people, to apply it to people

        1. sahelanthropus says:

          Fortunately I’m from the UK where I don’t have to deal with such a taboo normally (I did once have a creationist hairdresser). For most people they’re interested but just have never heard any of this stuff before. Hence starting a blog on the subject

        2. Wyrd Smythe says:

          Well, I’m quite glad you did. I’ve been meaning to come over and read for a while. Finally made it!

        3. Adam Benton says:

          Welcome. I hope you enjoy your stay

  2. acollectionofatoms says:

    In the U.S. theirs the Christian right and the Progressive left that don’t believe in evolution.
    It must be good to live in the land of Darwin.

    1. sahelanthropus says:

      I do smile whenever I see him on our money, but it does make those encounters with creationists here – although thankfully rare – all the more disturbing.

  3. cgosling says:

    Well done. Keep up the current news. I’m sure there are those who think you are threatening their beliefs.

    1. sahelanthropus says:

      I’ve yet to encounter someone claiming that I am threatening their beliefs, but should such a situation occur I would probably relish the challenge.

  4. eideard says:

    Delightful article.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    The Neanderthals were physically and culturally adapted to ice-age Europe, so it’s not inconceivable that they could live in ice-age North America. As for getting there, at that time there was a land connection between what is now Siberia and what is now Alaska (the sequestration of huge amounts of water in the glaciers, which at the time buried the site of present-day Chicago under at least half a mile of ice, dropped sea level enough to expose this land).

  16. Anonymous says:

    its must be good to see the fusion at chromsome 2 showed genetic manipulation

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