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Neanderthals Were Screwed From the Very Start, Say Scientists

They were never going to outlast humans.

The only living evidence of Neanderthals today is in the genomes of human beings. Scientists approximate that between one and five percent of modern European and Asian genomes contain Neanderthal DNA — a reminder that, for a period of about 15,000 years, anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted and hooked up until the complete disappearance of Neanderthals 38,000 years ago.

The nature of the relationships between modern humans and Neanderthals, and what eventually caused Neanderthals to die out, is still debated. A study released Tuesday in Nature Communications continues the conversation, positing that Neanderthals were always doomed to extinction.

It’s widely accepted that the hominid species met and mated when a band of modern humans migrated out of Africa at the end of the middle Paleolithic era, but scientists haven’t been able to determine whether the eventual demise of the Neanderthals was a result of competition with humans or environmental factors. The Stanford University scientists behind the new study, however, used computer modeling to show that the continuous migration of modern humans from Africa into Eurasia meant that they were always going to eventually replace Neanderthals, whether or not natural selection or other environmental factors played a concurrent role in the Neanderthal collapse.

“Our simple model suggests that recurring migration from Africa into the Levant and Europe — even at a low rate — was sufficient to result in the Neanderthals’ replacement even if neither species had a selective advantage over the other, and regardless of possible differences in population size between the two species,” the researchers write.

This model suggests Neanderthal replacement was determined by migration and random species drift.

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The predominant competing theories on what happened to the Neanderthals are that either environmental factors, like climate change or an epidemic, caused the ancient beings to die out, or that modern humans had some sort of selective advantage. This specific advantage varies with scientists’ hypothesis, but the most shared idea is that Homo sapiens had a superior cognitive capacity, and the culture that emerged from that allowed them to thrive.

Stanford researchers Oren Kolodny, a postdoctoral research fellow, and Marcus Feldman, Ph.D., say that their model doesn’t prove or disprove either of these theories but emphasizes that Neanderthals would be displaced by modern humans no matter what. In their computer simulation, groups that represented small bands of Neanderthals and modern humans were randomly chosen to go extinct. This group was then replaced by a new one, and either species were equally likely to replace each other. Meanwhile, a group of modern humans, representing the African migration, would be added in.

The researchers ran the simulation demonstrating this small trickle of human migration more than a million times, and in the vast majority of the trials the conclusion was the same: Humans would replace Neanderthals. Even when the migration rates of humans were low, Neanderthals in the model died out within 12,000 years. This, Kolodny and Feldman write, proposes a scenario of “gradual replacement.”

Whether or not other factors contributed to the Neanderthal’s collapse remains to be proven. This model raises questions as to whether modern humans really were all that superior to their stocky, heavy-browed peers — both were living in the same ecological niche, but the numbers were in favor of the humans.

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If you liked this article, check out this video on why evolution has made our faces less punchable.

Why Experts Say "Zombie Deer" Disease Can Spread Chronic Wasting to Humans

 "It's possible the number of human cases will be substantial." 

A few months ago, the “zombie deer disease” was largely the concern of deer hunters, deer activists, and anyone generally attuned to weird zombie-like diseases that abound in nature. But now, the disease is present in deer in 24 states and two Canadian provinces, and experts are warning it may be transmissible to humans — a potential risk that is too pressing to ignore.

The Incredible Science Behind This Self-Warming, Self-Cooling Bed

Eight Sleep’s new bed will make tossing and turning a thing of the past.

Filed Under Data

Sleep tracking can unquestionably help you establish better habits which allow for a more restful night’s sleep. By keeping track of the nights that you toss and turn, you can identify potential explanations for your sub-optimal slumber. Maybe it’s the time of week that’s got you anxious. Maybe it was the cheeseburger you had for lunch. Paying attention is just the start, though.

Did Inbreeding Kill the Neanderthals? Experts Say Skeletons Hold Clues

Things got a little "Game of Thrones."

Today, Homo sapiens are the only humans left on Earth. But thousands of years ago there were more of us — other species that belonged to the same genus, and in turn, our family tree. They are now extinct and scientists endeavor to figure out why.

In a new study published this month in Scientific Reports, a team took on the case of Homo neanderthalensis, and argue that the reason they died out was because things turned a little Game of Thrones.

Brain Scans Reveal Why "Night Owls" Have It Rough in a 9-to-5 Society: Study

The results explain why we need to "create more flexibility in our society."

The 9-to-5 workday originated with American labor unions in the 1800s, and today, the eight-hour workday is the norm. But however normalized the schedule, it is directly opposed to something more powerful: biology.

In a new study, scientists report that people whose internal body clocks tell them to go to bed late, but are then forced to wake up early, have a lower resting brain connectivity in the regions of the brain linked to consciousness.

The 'Stoned Ape' Theory Might Explain Our Extraordinary Evolution

A scientist resurfaces a psychedelic retelling of human evolution.

Imagine Homo erectus, a now-extinct species of hominids that stood upright and became the first of our ancestors to move beyond a single continent. Around two million years ago, these hominids, some of whom eventually evolved into Homo sapiens, began to expand their range beyond Africa, moving into Asia and Europe. Along the way, they tracked animals, encountered dung, and discovered new plants.