Why did the Neanderthals go extinct?

Although we are descended from Neanderthals, the species does not exist today – it might help the future of homo-sapiens to understand why.

6th November 2017
Why did the Neanderthals go extinct? © Alamy

Asked by: Kevin Simpson, Durham

The spread of modern humans across Europe is associated with the demise and ultimate extinction of Neanderthal populations 40,000 years ago, likely due to competition for resources. While the jury is still out on whether or not Neanderthals and modern humans differed in cognition, the ability of a small number of humans to replace a larger population of Neanderthals may have been due to a higher level of culture – our power to develop and pass on knowledge of better tools, better clothing, or better economic organisation. Interbreeding may also have lent us an advantage. Between 1 and 4 per cent of the DNA of all living humans (except sub-Saharan Africans) is Neanderthal in origin.

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