Neanderthals died 40,000 years ago, but there was no more of their DNA on Earth

Image source: Tom Björklund / Moesgård Museum, author submitted

Neanderthals have been a reflection of our humanity since they were first discovered 1856. What we think we know about them has been molded and shaped to fit our cultural tendencies, social norms, and scientific standards. They’ve changed from diseased specimens to rudimentary, primitive, subhuman cousins ​​to advanced humans.

We now know that Neanderthals were very similar to ourselves and that we both met and interbred frequently. But why did they become extinct when we? He survived, thrived, and ended up taking over the planet?

Neanderthals evolved over 400,000 years ago, likely from an earlier ancestor man from Heidelberg. They were very successful and spread across an area from the Mediterranean to Siberia. They were very smart, and had average brains Bigger than a sane person.

They hunted for big game, collected plants, fungi and seafood, and controlled the fire for cooking, Composite tools mademade Animal skin clothesAnd they made beads from shells, and they managed to do that Carving symbols on cave walls. They took care of their young, the old and the weak, created shelters for protection, lived through harsh winters and warm summerAnd they buried their dead.

Neanderthals met our ancestors on several occasions over the course of tens of thousands of years, and the two species shared the European continent for at least 14,000 years. even they mated with each other.

The death of a species

The most significant difference between Neanderthals and ourselves is that they became extinct about 40,000 years ago. The exact cause of their death is still elusive, but we believe it may have been the result of a combination of factors.

Neanderthals died 40,000 years ago, but there was no more of their DNA on Earth

Our common ancestor lived less than a million years ago. Credit: Kjærgaard, Nielsen & Maslin, Author provided

First, the climate of the last Ice Age was very variable, shifting from Cool to warm and back againWhich puts pressure on animals and plants food sources It means that Neanderthals were constantly on it Adapting to environmental change. Second, there were never so many Neanderthals, with the total population never exceeding tens of thousands.

They lived in groups of five to 15 individuals, compared to Homo sapiens which had groups of up to 150 individuals. These small isolated groups of Neanderthals may be increasingly genetically unsustainable.

Third, there was competition with other predators, especially groups modern humans that originated from Africa about 60,000 years ago. We speculate that many Neanderthals may have been assimilated into the larger bands of Homo sapiens.

Where is the evidence?

Neanderthals left many relics for us to examine after tens of thousands of years, many of which can be seen in the special exhibition we helped organize at The Natural History Museum in Denmark. Over the past 150 years, we’ve collected fossil bones, stone and wood tools, found the trinkets and jewelry they left behind, uncovered burials, and now mapped their genomes from ancient DNA. It seems that 99.7% of Neanderthals Modern human DNA is identical and they are our closest extinct relatives.

Perhaps the most surprising fact is the evidence of Hybridization That left traces of DNA in living humans today. Many Europeans and Asians have between 1% and 4% of Neanderthal DNA while sub-Saharan Africans have almost zero. Ironically, the current world population of about 8 billion people means that there was no more Neanderthal DNA on Earth.

The Neanderthal genome also helps us understand more of what it looked like, as there is evidence that some Neanderthals developed pale skin and red hair long before Homo sapiens. The many genes shared by Neanderthals and modern humans are linked to anything from the ability to taste bitter foods to the ability to speak.

Neanderthals died 40,000 years ago, but there was no more of their DNA on Earth

99.7% are human. Image source: Tom Björklund / Moesgård Museum, author submitted

We have also increased our knowledge of human health. For example, some Neanderthal DNA that would have been useful to humans tens of thousands of years ago appears to cause problems when combined with a modern Western lifestyle.

There are links to alcoholism, obesity, allergies, blood clots, and depression. Recently, scientists have suggested that an ancient genetic variant from Neanderthals may increase the risk of infection Serious complications from infection with COVID-19.

raise the mirror

Like the dinosaurs, Neanderthals didn’t know what was coming. The difference is that the dinosaurs suddenly disappeared after the collision of a giant meteorite from outer space. The extinction of Neanderthals occurred gradually. They eventually lost their world, a comfortable home they had successfully occupied for hundreds of thousands of years and which slowly turned against them, until existence itself became unsustainable.

In this sense, Neanderthals now serve a different purpose. We see our reflection in them. They did not know what was happening to them and had no choice but to continue down the path that eventually led to extinction. On the other hand, we are painfully aware of our situation and our impact on the planet.

Human activity changes the climate and leads directly to the sixth mass extinction. We can think of the mess we got ourselves into and we can do something about it.

If we don’t want to end up like Neanderthals, we better combine our work and work collectively for a more sustainable future. The extinction of Neanderthals reminds us that we should never take our existence for granted.

“Homo sapiens is too arrogant: call us Homo Faber, tool maker”

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