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Neanderthals were on the verge of extinction well before humans entered Europe

  • 29-02-2012 2:46pm
    Closed Accounts Posts: 20,759 ✭✭✭✭ dlofnep

    A new study which analyzed Neanderthal DNA suggests that our close, now extinct relatives were on the point of dying off as a race well before humans made their appearance in Western Europe.

    The team of international researchers analyzed the mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones of 13 Neanderthals, and studied its variation. Mitochondrial DNA is copious relative to autosomal DNA, making ancient DNA extraction easier. The fossil specimens came from Europe and Asia and span a time period ranging from 100,000 years ago to about 35,000 years ago.

    Researchers observed that DNA variation in Western Europe specimens was as much as six-fold smaller than that found in Asian samples. This lead scientists to claim that the European Neanderthals were less prepared for a change in the environment and susceptible to mass extinction as a result of the ice age raging around 50,000 years ago.

    However, a small group later recolonised central and western Europe, where they survived for another 10,000 years before modern humans appeared , the researchers went on to add. Humans are believed to have first appeared in Europe circa 40,000 years ago.