The impact of climate change on the transition of Neanderthals to modern humans in Europe

Michael Staubwasser, Virgil Drăgușin, Bogdan P. Onac, Sergey Assonov, Vasile Ersek, Dirk Hoffmann, Daniel Veres

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Two speleothem stable isotope records from east-central Europe demonstrate that Greenland Stadials (GS) 12 and 10 – at 44.3-43.3 ka and 40.8-40.2 ka – were prominent intervals of cold and arid conditions. GS12, 11, and 10 are coeval with a regional pattern of culturally (near-) sterile layers within Europe’s diachronous archeologic transition from Neanderthals to modern human Aurignacian. Sterile layers coeval with GS12 precede the Aurignacian throughout the middle and upper Danube region. In some records from the northern Iberian Peninsula, such layers are coeval with GS11 and separate the Châtelperronian from the Aurignacian. Sterile layers preceding the Aurignacian in the remaining Châtelperronian domain are coeval with GS10 and the previously reported 40.0 - 40.8 ka cal BP time range of Neanderthals’ disappearance from most of Europe. This suggests that ecologic stress during stadial expansion of steppe landscape caused a diachronous pattern of depopulation of Neanderthals which facilitated repopulation by modern humans who appear to have been better adapted to this environment. Consecutive depopulation-repopulation cycles during severe stadials of the middle pleniglacial may principally explain the repeated replacement of Europe’s population and its genetic composition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9116-9121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number37
Early online date27 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2018


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