January 11, 2011

Neanderthals Had Same Life Expectancy As Early Modern Humans

A study published this week says that dying young was not the reason Neanderthals went extinct, adding that that early modern humans had about the same life expectancy as their hairier kin.

Scientists have been puzzled over why the Neanderthals disappeared just as modern humans were making huge gains and moving into new parts of Africa and Europe, and some have speculated that a difference in longevity may have been the reason.

The study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said that higher fertility rates and lower infant mortality gave modern humans an advantage over the Neanderthals, who died off about 30,000 years ago.

Erik Trinkaus, a scientist at Washington University who studied fossil records to get an idea of the life span of Neanderthals and early modern humans, said that he found about the same number of 20 to 40 year old adults in both populations.

The study said that this is an indication that would reflect "similar patterns of adult mortality."

"All the samples have a dearth of older individuals, which should reflect a complex combination of low life expectancy for adults, demographic instability, and the demands of mobility," Trinkaus told AFP.

"If indeed there was a demographic advantage for early modern humans, at least during transitional phases of Late Pleistocene human evolution, it must have been the result of increased fertility and/or reduced immature mortality."

Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.  Their last known refuge was Gibraltar.


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