Some paleoarchaeologists have hypothesized it’s possible they simply couldn’t reproduce fast enough to keep up with the modern humans moving into Europe around that time. Others suggest modern humans slaughtered any bands of Neanderthal they came across or infected them with novel diseases. And some suggest that an environmental catastrophe, like a volcanic eruption in Europe, killed off many plants and animals.
…Researchers propose a new hypothesis this week that suggests our bipedal brethren weren’t equipped to stand a cold spell that accompanied two long periods of extended climate change that took place around the time the species began its decline, Malcolm Ritter at the Associated Press reports.
…Not everyone is convinced by the research. Israel Hershkovitz, a physical anthropologist at Tel Aviv University, tells David that Neanderthals went through a lot of cold snaps before the ones 45,000 years ago and weathered them fine, so it doesn’t make sense that this one event would impact them so heavily. He also questions whether the climate record from caves in Romania can accurately represent all of Europe, saying there is evidence that other parts of the continent had a mild climate in the same period.
However, the researchers point out that the cold spells didn’t just impact Neanderthals. They continued to ice out modern humans after the Neanderthals disappeared; each time one culture of ancient humans disappeared in the face of a changing climate, another culture replaced them when the world warmed up again.