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28 Nov, 2019 14:55

Not our fault? Neanderthals’ extinction may have been due to sheer bad luck

Not our fault? Neanderthals’ extinction may have been due to sheer bad luck

The question of what caused Neanderthals to go extinct has long puzzled scientists, with many pointing the finger at our Homo Sapien ancestors. But a new study suggests our stocky cousins actually died out due to bad luck.

Experts in the field had come to a broad consensus that our forebearers played a key role in the extinction of Neanderthals by invading their territory and outnumbering or outsmarting them. But fresh research suggests that their small population of only around 10,000 left Neanderthals extremely vulnerable to extinction, and some natural fluctuations in birth rates could have done them in.

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The study suggests that our ancestors were not more advanced than Neanderthals when the two species of humans co-existed, and a run of bad luck could easily have led to the thick-browed people’s downfall.

“Small populations can survive over long stretches of time, and then suddenly disappear due to random fluctuations in births, deaths, sex ratio, and environmental pressures,” Krist Vaesen, one of the study’s authors, explained

The research team used mathematical and computer models to represent Neanderthal populations. They then ran these populations through a range of scenarios, including inbreeding, difficulties in mate-finding and random fluctuations in mortality and reproduction. 

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When they crunched the numbers the team was surprised to discover that even if Neanderthals had been fully identical to modern humans, they faced a considerable risk of extinction, because of their small population size. 

That finding suggests that no invasion of another species, let alone a superior species, was required for the Neanderthals to disappear from the face of the Earth. They could easily just have had a run of bad luck and died out.

So, if you’ve been harboring survivor’s guilt for all these years, it’s time to let it go. There’s now good evidence that it wasn’t our fault at all.

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