Western Europe may have undergone a population crisis during a cold stretch of the Neanderthal era, a new study of mitochondrial DNA sequences suggests.
"The fact that Neanderthals in Western Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us," study co-author Love Dalén, associate professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, told Phys.org.
"This indicates that the Neanderthals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought."
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By analyzing the amount of genetic variation in the DNA from 13 Neanderthals, the scientists pieced together the puzzle of a demographic history. The DNA of Neanderthals from more than 50,000 years ago showed a high degree of genetic variation, in contrast to the DNA of those from less than 50,000 years ago. That group showed much less genetic variation.