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Neanderthal bottleneck

1 March 2012

Now, we are told that Neanderthals wee on the verge of extinction even before the appearance of anatomically modern humans – see www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120225110942.htm according to a paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution (Feb 25th). The claim is that most Neanderthal populations in Europe disappeared in the great die-off that took place around 50,000 years ago (large numbers of animals in diverse regions of the world died out at this time although no such link is made in the article). What is being suggested is that only a remnant survived in central and western Europe, surviving for around 10,000 years until overwhelmed by the newcomers. This hypothesis has come about as a result of a study of ancient DNA. After 50,000 years ago the DNA was extremely limited whereas older fossils in Europe and Asia display evidence of much greater genetic variation (see also BBC News at www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17179608 and www.geneticarchaeology.com).

Meanwhile, over at www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328544.800-neanderthals-were-ancient-ma… there is the claim that Neanderthals were messing around in boats. Once again, it is the Mediterranean that is supposed to prove this as a result of their apparent ability to island hop. The thinking is that as a result of the ice sheet way up north the sea level was much lower – but low enough to join Crete and certain other islands to the mainland. Apparently, the sea bed off Greece drops down sharply to around 300m which more or less proves, it is thought, that Neanderthals must have used boats to reach the islands – and why not?

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