Supercomputer reveals why Neanderthals went extinct


Between 43 and 38 thousand years ago, Neanderthals, who lived in Eurasia for a period of 300 thousand years, disappeared from the face of the Earth. Despite the period coinciding with extremely aggressive climate changes and crossing with Homo sapiens, a supercomputer came to a different conclusion regarding the factor responsible for the species’ extinction: according to projections, competition with our ancestor was the real cause of the end of the hegemony of Neanderthals.

Axel Timmermann, director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at the National University of Pusan, South Korea, explains that this was the first realistic model developed to study the event. Based on scenarios of migration, interaction, competition and species crossing during intense climatic activity, the result of applying this methodology was published in the journal Quaternary Science Review.

Composed of thousands of lines of code, the model developed was executed on Aleph, the institution’s supercomputer, which solved a series of equations taking into account the glacial period and the amount of rain, in addition to vegetation patterns. What was noticed was that both hominids competed fiercely for food resources, according to genetic and demographic data.

“It is no coincidence that Neanderthals disappeared just when they came across Homo sapiens,” says Timmermann.

Variations applied and conclusion
Since, according to the researcher, it is possible to activate and deactivate any of the standards, disregarding, for example, factors such as climate change and crossing, it was possible to carry out a series of comparisons that allowed the result to be validated. “It is the first time that we are able to quantify such extinction”, he explains.

Details, unfortunately, remain a mystery, but it is assumed that the rise of Homo sapiens was due to its improved hunting techniques, greater resistance to pathogens and the high level of fertilization. Therefore, competition was really responsible for the disappearance of Neanderthals.

Axel goes further in his explanations: “During their long journey on the planet, Neanderthals faced even more extreme climatic conditions when compared to those that occurred during their disappearance. These simulations demonstrate what may have been the first extinction caused by our species ”.

Studies, of course, will not stop there. The model is being enhanced to include even more realistic megafauna and weather events. “Thus, climate scientists can join mathematicians, geneticists, archeologists and anthropologists”, concludes Timmermann.


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