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Neanderthals' 'extinction' may have been due to 'integration with humans'

Washington, Wed, 08 Feb 2012 ANI

Washington, Feb 8 (ANI): Neanderthals were believed to have been 'wiped out' by modern human ancestors but it is more likely that they were integrated into our gene pool, says a new research.


A study by Arizona State University Professor C Michael Barton of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity and School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Colorado, Denver suggests that the Neanderthals demise was due to a combination of influences, including cultural changes as a result of encountering our human ancestors as the two expanded their territory ranges.


The researchers used archaeological data to track cultural and socio-ecological changes in behaviour in Western Eurasia during the past 120,000 years.


As Neanderthals and early humans land-use patterns shifted during the last ice age, computer modelling showed that the two populations began to interact and mate, leading to the "extinction" of one of the groups due to hybridization, a well-recognized phenomenon in conservation biology.


Neanderthals were limited to western Eurasia and usually it is the smaller population that becomes "extinct" in this way. Nevertheless, succeeding hybrid populations still carry genes from the regional group that disappeared, according to the researchers.


To address the possibility that the two groups would not have seen one another as potential mates, the researchers also examined the possible impacts of social barriers to mating in their models. They found that unless social taboos were nearly 100 percent effective, it would have not made any difference in outcomes over time as the gene pools mixed, Barton said.


The researchers suggest it's time to study variation and diversity among individuals rather than classify them into types or species.


"Neanderthals' legacy lives on in our biological genome and possibly in our cultural knowledge," said Barton.


"There may have been may other populations like Neanderthals who were integrated into a global human species in the Late Pleistocene. We're the results," he added.


Barton and Riel-Salvatore present their research paper titled, Agents of Change: Modeling Biocultural Evolution in Upper Pleistocene Western Eurasia, in the journal Advances in Complex Systems. (ANI)


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