The Neanderthals’ Handicaps

Priscilla Long presents some theories as to what led to the demise of our evolutionary cousins – shorter lifespans and climate change among them:

Because they had bigger bodies, they required more calories to survive than we do. They may have lacked sewing skills. Neither Neandertals nor Homo sapiens lived long (the rare 30-year-old Neandertal was old), but at some point, for reasons not really understood, the life spans of Homo sapiens began to increase. More longevity provided a grandparent generation to impart knowledge, skills, and more resources to the group.

Another discovery bearing on the subject are the extreme climate fluctuations that occurred between 65,000 and 25,000 years ago. The Neandertals had bodies and cultures adapted to ice and snow. This time of fluctuation involved such rapid climate change that in one lifetime “all the plants and animals that a person had grown up with could vanish and be replaced with unfamiliar flora and fauna,” writes Wong. The environmental stress may have decimated their ranks to below zero population growth.