Neanderthal extinction as part of the faunal change in Europe during Oxygen Isotope Stage 3
The extinction of the Neanderthals has not been widely considered in the light of the palaeoecology of other mammals. Therefore, a palaeoecological and historical biogeographical analysis of a database of European mammalian fossils for the period covering 60-20 thousand calendar years (approximately OIS 3 and covering the time when Neanderthals became extinct) has been conducted that shed light on the ecological conditions of this period. Broadly the larger mammals in this database form historical biogeographical categories including extant ubiquitous, extant northern and montane, extant eastern, extinct northern and extinct southern taxa. Neanderthals appear to belong to the extinct southern grouping which highlights the lack of attention they had received from the perspective of extinct Late Pleistocene Megafaunal elements. The temporal distribution of taxa confirms the decline towards the Last Glacial Maximum of the southern extinct group and further reveals a decrease in the occurrence of many smaller carnivores. The latter may indicate a decrease in carrying capacity as temperatures decreased which is supported by the decrease in occurrence of mammoths on non-archaeological sites and other similar phenomena documented elsewhere. The geographical distribution of the larger mammals of OIS 3 confirms a retreat towards the South and West of Neanderthals similar to that of the straight-tusked elephant Elephas antiquus and Merck's rhino Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, both of which also became extinct towards the Last Glacial Maximum. The change in geographical distribution of the European wild ass Equus hydruntinus through OIS 3 may be closest to that of the Neanderthals implying similar tolerances. The results of the palaeoecological and palaeobiogeographical study of Neanderthals prompt a reconsideration of their supposed adaptations.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 May 2007
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