The Fall of the Neanderthal: What Happened to Our Cousins?

You can find what you are wondering about the extinction of Neanderthals here! The Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia for over 350,000 years, disappeared about 40,000 years ago. So, what were the reasons for this mysterious disappearance? By pursuing scientific causes, we will open the dusty pages of history and shed light on the development process of Homo sapiens. Join us and learn more about the mysterious extinction of the Neanderthals in our first article, in which we examine different theories about that and share the results of the latest research on this topic.

APA 7: Kaykı, D., & Çarıkçıoğlu, A. E. (2023, August 6). Neandertal’in Düşüşü: Kuzenlerimize Ne Oldu? PerEXP Teamworks. [Article Link]

In this article, part of the origins and evolution of humanity that is of interest to the scientific community will be focused on: the Neanderthals. Neanderthals, known as “Homo neanderthalensis,” existed in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East for about 400,000 years, but why did they all disappear at once? In the article, dusty pages of history will be opened, and light will be shed on the development process of Homo sapiens.

How have they lived and risen?

Neanderthals lived during the Middle Paleolithic period and adapted to cold climates. Their thick bones, strong muscles, and body structures have made them resistant to cold climate conditions. In addition, archaeological finds and fossils show that Neanderthals could use complex tools, light fires, and even think symbolically.

A comparison of the skeletal structure of Homo neanderthalensis with that of Homo sapiens (Left) and an impression of the way of life of Homo neanderthalensis (Right) (DOCPLAYER) (

They have lived in numerous ecosystems, from Central Asia to the Caspian Sea, from the Atlantic coast to Belgium in the northernmost part, Southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean Sea. To focus on the evolutionary processes of Neanderthals, it is assumed that the Denisovans and Sapiens were the last common ancestors before becoming largely isolated in Europe, Asia, and Africa during the population of “Homo heidelbergensis.” [1]

A map showing the areas where Neanderthals lived (World History Encyclopedia)

Scientists have accepted too many milestones for Neanderthal and human distinctions. Approximately 250,000 years ago is the date range when “Homo helmei” was the last common ancestor, and its separation is associated with the Levallois stone tool-making technique. The assumption that occurred about 400,000 years ago treats Homo heidelbergensis as the “Last common ancestor.” The theory that it split up 600,000 years ago states that “Homo rhodesiensis” is the last common ancestor of the modern human lineage and a lineage that split off as Homo neanderthalensis or Homo heidelbergensis.

It is worth making a little reminder here! When talking about cousins of the human species, chimpanzees are usually mentioned. Since they are cousins of Homo sapiens living today, it is usual for chimpanzees to be frequently mentioned. However, humans diverged from their common ancestor with chimpanzees about 6 million years ago. During this 6-million-year period, many closely related species to humans became extinct. [2]

According to all theories, the evolutionary tree of humanity The species, called “Homo antecessor,” has been recorded as a member of the oldest Hominin in Europe (The “Burrow,” in which humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos are found in common). According to a 2014 study, it was determined that it is 900,000 years old, while six years later, it was determined that Homo antecessor is in a “Sister lineage” with modern humans and Neanderthals. However, it has been shown that it derives independently from Homo heidelbergensis. (DOCPLAYER) (Current Biology) (Medium)

The human gene differs from that of chimpanzees by 1.23%. Speaking of Neanderthals, this figure is only 0.12%. Given these proportions, it may be relatively understandable how close humans were to Neanderthals. Homo neanderthalensis was able to hunt large animals such as mammoths, rhinoceroses, and deer with the limited tool technologies they had by using various stone-making techniques. This is proof of how much they have mastered animal husbandry and have developed some methods to be able to hunt animals. [3]

What are the secrets behind the ultimate extinction of the Neanderthals?

Answering the question in the title within a short time is a multi-stage process. There are various theories about the subject. One of them is the “Mixture Theory.” Neanderthals were last seen about 30 thousand years ago, according to the theory. This date dates back several thousand years after the appearance of Sapiens in Europe, but the exact timing of the date in question and the data on the length of its duration have been accessible in a limited way by dating methods. In other words, scientists who comment on this topic owe a debt to dating.

For example, radiocarbon dating (The method of calculating the age according to the radioactive carbon density in a fossil) can be misleading, and this method has often been used when commenting on Neanderthals. The two species have lived together in Europe for a considerable period (Almost 10 thousand years) and probably met during this time. During the encounter, some circles expressed the opinion that the Neanderthal lineage was extinct, while other quarters argued that there was a mix-up, as mentioned earlier. [4]

It has been claimed that several European Upper Paleolithic modern human specimens are possible Neanderthal-modern human hybrids; however, there is no consensus on the subject. No evidence of mixing was found in mitochondrial DNA analyses. But later, studies conducted on Neanderthal Nuclear DNA revealed findings on this issue. A low proportion (on average, 4%) of the genomes of non-Africans studied so far may have been left over from Neanderthals. The mentioned heritage may support the idea that interspecies mating took place before the arrival of species in Europe but in the Near East during the Decrepit spread of modern humans outside Africa.

But there is another strange situation: Neanderthal populations disappeared quite quickly. The fact that the extinction occurred so quickly can be attributed to the changing climatic conditions and the competition they experienced with Sapiens. Their simultaneous exposure to these two harsh conditions made Neanderthals very difficult and perhaps destroyed them. The advantages of Sapiens over Neanderthals could have been better dressing, improved hunting techniques, living in larger colonies, the lack of inbreeding, or demographic factors. Neanderthals were growing and dying faster than humans. Such demographic differences have also been successfully identified. [5]

On the other hand, another example acknowledges that there was degradation and fragmentation in the natural habitat of Neanderthals long before the arrival of modern humans. And this caused mass losses, ultimately resulting in absolute extinction. Significant changes occurred during the spread of modern humans across Eurasia. The transition from cold periods to milder periods affected the distribution of plant and animal species.

Homo sapiens were hunter-gatherer groups that were able to adapt to climatic changes and had more effective hunting techniques. For this reason, Neanderthals were left in a more unsuccessful state than they were. However, since they did not become extinct during the previous cold phases, it is not a scientifically correct determination to assume only climate change as the reason for their extinction. In October, no connection between the period in which the last Neanderthal individuals are indicated to have lived and their prominent climatic developments was determined.

Some extinction scenarios of Neanderthals – Clockwise, starting from the upper left corner: Their relationship with humans, slaughter, lack of hunting technology, and climate. ( (El Mundo) (Gizmodo) (LiveScience)

In summary, the extinction process of Neanderthals is a complex and multi-stage issue. A combination of climatic changes, competition, hybridization, and other factors may have influenced the relationship of Neanderthals with modern humans. More research needs to be done to determine exactly what is causing it. It may be wrong to focus on a single theory; indeed, the extinction of the Neanderthals could have taken place in the form of a chain of complex events. Who knows? Perhaps the limiting climatic conditions combined with increased competition for resources had depleted the Neanderthal lineage. [6]


  1. WIKIPEDIA ENTRY Neandertal. (2023, April 10). In Wikipedia. [Wikipedia Turkish]
  2. WEBSITE Keats, J., Bakırcı, Ç. M. (2015, January 09). Neandertal Nedir? Kimdir? Neandertaller Hakkında Temel Bilgiler ve Gerçekler…. Evrim Ağacı. [Evrim Ağacı]
  3. DICTIONARY ENTRY Trinkaus, E. , Tuttle, . Russell Howard and Williams, . Frank L’Engle (2023, June 1). NeanderthalEncyclopedia Britannica. [Britannica]
  4. WEBSITE The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. (2022, July 1). Homo neanderthalensis. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. [The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History]
  5. WEBSITE Dorey, F. (2021, June 28). Homo neanderthalensis – The Neanderthals. The Australian Museum. [The Australian Museum]
  6. WEBSITE Harvati, K. (2012). What happened to the Neanderthals? Nature Education Knowledge. [Nature Education Knowledge]

This translation was made by Ahmet Ege Çarıkçıoğlu

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