Homo neanderthalensis and homo sapiens are believed to have coexisted. Imagine–two species of humanoids (is that the right word?) existing at the same time. There’s evidence that they fought and killed each other (a sapien spear tip nestled beneath a neanderthalensis rib cage) and that interbreeding occasionally occurred (genetic testing, etc.)
The question remains, then, why humans survived and neanderthals didn’t.
In 2004, a study [read it–a lot of interesting info I won’t mention here] showed that climate change was the most likely reason. The planet cooled and neanderthals couldn’t take it.
After having taken an historical geology class, I knew that climate change doesn’t just happen. So I continued my deep research (i.e., Google searches) and found a source that made me warm and fuzzy. On October 7, 2010, an article was posted at Science Daily that suggested that volcanic eruptions caused the climate change.
The lead researcher said this: “”[W]e offer the hypothesis that the Neanderthal demise occurred abruptly (on a geological time-scale) … after the most powerful volcanic activity in western Eurasia during the period of Neanderthal evolutionary history.
“[T]his catastrophe not only drastically destroyed the ecological niches of Neanderthal populations but also caused their mass physical depopulation.”
Evidence for this corresponds with the Campanian Ignimbrite super-eruption (doesn’t that sound amazing?) which occurred around 40,000 years ago. This happened in modern-day Italy, and fortunately for us, humans inhabited the southern parts of western Eurasia and Africa. Geographically, they were able to avoid the direct impact of the eruptions.
Neanderthals, however, weren’t so lucky. National Geographic suggests that it wasn’t because of their lack of body-warming technology–both species had fur mantles–but because they were unable to adapt new hunting techniques.
As the Ice Age began after these eruptions, big game (such as mammoth, bison, and deer) scurried to the tropics like Michiganers at Christmas, and the thick forests in the north froze and became a sparsely vegetated steppe.
Neanderthals, accustomed to thick foliage for camouflage, couldn’t seem to figure out how to hunt the new, dispersed animals that occupied their home. With less food, they grew weaker and more easily succumbed to disease and other threats, all of which led to their ultimate extinction.
Obviously, someone didn’t buy their Designer Snuggies, Camouflage pattern.