APR 28, 2015 10:38 AM PDT

Why Did Humans Replace Neanderthals? Paleo Diet Didn't Change, Climate Did

WRITTEN BY: Will Hector
Why were Neanderthals replaced by anatomically modern humans around 40,000 years ago? One popular hypothesis states that a broader dietary spectrum of modern humans gave them a competitive advantage on Neanderthals. Geochemical analyses of fossil bones seemed to confirm this dietary difference. Indeed, higher amounts of nitrogen heavy isotopes were found in the bones of modern humans compared to those of Neanderthals, suggesting at first that modern humans included fish in their diet while Neanderthals were focused on the meat of terrestrial large game, such as mammoth and bison.

However, these studies did not look at possible isotopic variation of nitrogen isotopes in the food resource themselves. In fact, environmental factors such as aridity can increase the heavy nitrogen isotope amount in plants, leading to higher nitrogen isotopic values in herbivores and their predators even without a change of subsistence strategy. A recent study published in Journal of Human Evolution by researchers from the University of Tübingen (Germany) and the Musée national de Préhistoire in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac (France) revealed that the nitrogen isotopic content of animal bones, both herbivores, such as reindeer, red deer, horse and bison, and carnivores such as wolves, changed dramatically at the time of first occurrence of modern humans in southwestern France.

The changes are very similar to those seen in human fossils during the same period, showing that there was not necessarily a change in diet between Neanderthals and modern humans, but rather a change in environment that was responsible for a different isotopic signature of the same food resources.

Moreover, this isotopic event coinciding in timing with the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans may indicate that environmental changes, such as an increase of aridity, could have helped modern humans to overcome the Neanderthals.

These new results, together with recently published research showing that Neanderthals had more skills and exploited more diverse food resources than previously thought, makes the biological differences between these two types of prehistoric humans always smaller. In this context, the exact circumstances of the extinction of Neanderthals by modern humans remain unclear and they are probably more complex than just a behavioral superiority of one type of humans compared to the other.

(Sources: Universitaet Tübingen; Science Daily)
About the Author
  • Will Hector practices psychotherapy at Heart in Balance Counseling Center in Oakland, California. He has substantial training in Attachment Theory, Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy, Psycho-Physical Therapy, and Formative Psychology. To learn more about his practice, click here: http://www.heartinbalancetherapy.com/will-hector.html
You May Also Like
AUG 23, 2020
Microbiology
How Microbes Can Help Clean a Toxic River
AUG 23, 2020
How Microbes Can Help Clean a Toxic River
Some places in the United States have become dangerously polluted with hazardous waste. The EPA oversees a program that ...
AUG 24, 2020
Microbiology
Microbes That Live on Air Alone Found Outside of Antarctica
AUG 24, 2020
Microbes That Live on Air Alone Found Outside of Antarctica
In 2017, researchers reported that they had identified microbes in Antarctica that could basically survive on only air. ...
SEP 21, 2020
Neuroscience
Scientists Compare Structural and Functional Evolution with First Atlas of Cavefish Brains
SEP 21, 2020
Scientists Compare Structural and Functional Evolution with First Atlas of Cavefish Brains
Cavefish are fish that dwell in caves, unable to access the outside world. Often, they were separated from their closest ...
NOV 12, 2020
Plants & Animals
Noise Pollution Threatens Norway's Orcas
NOV 12, 2020
Noise Pollution Threatens Norway's Orcas
Orca pods heavily depend on vocal communication for survival. Their unique ability to communicate with other pod members ...
NOV 18, 2020
Health & Medicine
Rising Temperatures May Increase Tick-Borne Diseases in Humans
NOV 18, 2020
Rising Temperatures May Increase Tick-Borne Diseases in Humans
New research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene warns that climate ...
NOV 15, 2020
Earth & The Environment
We must reduce aerosol pollution and greenhouse gas emissions simultaneously
NOV 15, 2020
We must reduce aerosol pollution and greenhouse gas emissions simultaneously
New research published in the journal Science Advances urges the necessity of reducing carbon dioxide and aerosol p ...
Loading Comments...