Volcanic cryptotephra gives clues to Neanderthal demise

Related Articles

Related Articles

Neanderthal Skull Wiki Commons

Invisible to the human eye, cryptotephra is a fine volcanic glass that is blasted out of erupting volcanoes along with ash. It leaves behind a hidden layer, in the earth, which has now been detected, giving clues about why the Neanderthals died out.

About 40,000 years ago, a layer of cryptotephra particles carpeted a huge area of Central and Eastern Europe after a massive volcanic eruption in Italy called the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI). This eruption, and the resulting environmental and climatic disruption, has been suggested as a factor in the extinction of the Neanderthals.

 

Interaction with us, modern humans, is one of the other possibilities. Neanderthals, who were our closest relatives, had been living in Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. But all physical evidence of them disappears after about 30,000 years ago. Early modern humans were known to have arrived in Europe at least 35,000 years ago, having originated in Africa, but precise dates, and the length of time they overlapped with the last Neanderthals, are unclear.

Archaeological sites, many in caves, have revealed stone tools belonging to Neanderthals and to early modern humans. Scientists have now used a new technique to detect CI cryptotephra in some of these sites across Europe and in Libya – the lighter particles of the glass means it spreads over much wider distances than ash.

Microscopic particles of volcanic glass called cryptotephra. © Suzanne MacLachlan/BOSCORF/National Oceanography Centre, UK.

The team of more than 40 scientists, including Prof Chris Stringer and Mark Lewis of the Natural History Museum, published their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week. They found that the CI cryptotephra lies above, and so is younger than, the layers where modern human stone tools began to replace Neanderthal stone tools, in 4 central European sites. This means that the Italian eruption happened after the Neanderthals had already declined and so it couldn’t have been the cause of their extinction.

The team says that the CI volcanic eruption, and severe climatic cooling that happened around the same time, did not have a lasting impact on Neanderthals, or early modern humans. Modern humans had already arrived in Europe by 40,000 years ago, and posed a greater threat than natural disasters to the survival of other humans living there, they say.

The issue may have been increased competition for resources, with modern humans being better able to take advantage of their surroundings. Or possibly conflict – genetic studies suggest there was certainly close contact between Neanderthals and early modern humans who left Africa, including some interbreeding. Either way, it is looking more and more likely that modern humans were implicated in the demise of the Neanderthals.

Contributing Source : NHM

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Press Releases

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Study Reveals Ancient Viking Waterway Through the Orkney Mainland

Archaeologists have discovered a lost Viking waterway that ran through the Orkney mainland, connecting the North Atlantic with the Scapa Flow, where Vikings are believed to have anchored their longships.

Geologists Publish New Findings on Carbonate Melts in Earth’s Mantle

Geologists from Florida State University's Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science have discovered how carbon-rich molten rock in the Earth's upper mantle might affect the movement of seismic waves.

Study Detects Cinnabar and Hematite in Murals From Early Teotihuacan

Archaeologists and a multi-discipline team of researchers find traces of cinnabar, a bright scarlet to brick-red form of mercury sulfide (HgS), and hematite in a mural in the Quetzalpapálotl Complex at Teotihuacan.

Intact Inca Underwater Offering Discovered in Lake Titicaca

Archaeologists conducting research at Lake Titicaca on the border between Peru and Bolivia, have discovered an intact underwater offering deposited over 500 years ago that sheds new light on the lake’s place in Inca culture.

Archaeologists Identify Ancient Wealth Gap

An international team of archaeologists have discovered that a wealth gap existed in the Neolithic, around 6,600-years-ago.

A Giant Crane From Southern Germany

Researchers from Frankfurt and Tübingen say the skull of a very large crane found at the Hammerschmiede fossil site in Allgäu, Bavaria, is more than eleven million years old.

When Mammals Ate Dinosaurs

The cervical rib of a long-necked dinosaur from northwest China provides the oldest known evidence to date that early mammals fed on dinosaur meat around 160 million years ago.

Early Mars Was Covered in Ice Sheets, Not Flowing Rivers

A large number of the valley networks scarring Mars's surface were carved by water melting beneath glacial ice, not by free-flowing rivers as previously though.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.