The Neanderthals
An exhibit shows the life of a neanderthal family in a cave in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina February 25, 2010. Reuters

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Cologne has suggested that climatic changes have marked the fall of Neanderthals and the rise of humans. The new open access paper reveals that a series of cold, dry phases during the last European age triggered the initial demise of Neanderthals, which finally resulted in their extinction.

The researchers revealed that Neanderthals were the most dominant species on Europe from 350,000 to 40,000 years ago. As a result of the ice age which started some 1,00,000 years ago, the climate cooled drastically, and Central Europe became totally inhabitable. In this tough phase, the Neanderthals moved into the refugial areas located in the southern borders of Europe.

In the next 60,000 years, the climate started oscillating between long cold phases and short warm intervals. The long phases literally affected the tree growth in forests, and thus the life of Neanderthals was affected very badly.

Around 43,000 years ago, the artifact signature made by Neanderthals completely disappeared from the archeological record. Soon, artifacts including stone tools and pre-historic art started appearing which is mainly attributed to Homo Sapiens.

The researchers found that the last traces of Neanderthals were found in Europe before this extreme cold phase. It should be also noted that during this cold phase, no Homo Sapien traces were also not found. As the climate started warming again, new traces appeared, and they were attributed to Homo Sapiens.

So, how climate change contributed to the extinction of Neanderthals? Extreme cold temperatures lessened the number of large animals in the forests. Neanderthals who were specialized hunters might have faced difficulties to survive without large preys. As food scarcity increased, the number of Neanderthals started dwindling, and finally, they went extinct around 40,000 years ago.

Homo Sapiens soon occupied the areas where Neanderthals roamed, and soon they became the most dominant creatures on planet earth.