- Neanderthals in Western Europe began to die out long before modern humans arrived.
- Western Europeans younger than 50,000 years ago show a highly reduced amount of genetic variation.
- Scientists think a period of extreme cold was to blame, reducing Neanderthal prey and then Neanderthals themselves.
Neanderthals in Western Europe started disappearing long before Homo sapiens showed up, suggesting that cold weather, and not cold-hearted humans, might have been responsible for the species' ultimate demise.
The findings, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, suggest that at least one population of Neanderthals was vulnerable to climate change.
Love Dalén, lead author of the paper, told Discovery News that "even if the Neanderthals were capable of surviving periods of extreme cold, the game species they relied on likely could not, so their resource base would have been severely depleted."
Neanderthals appear to have favored hunting wooly mammoths and other big game. Neanderthals were also big-brained, with the ability to make stone tools, construct garments, control fire and find shelter.