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13 July 2009
Illness brought down early human rival

Scientists seeking to uncover the mystery of what happened to the Neanderthals should look to the modus operandi of another great die-off 30,000 years later, argues a Danish expert in an article submitted to the Journal of Archaeological Science. In the article, professor emeritus Bent Sørensen of the University of Roskilde wrote that disease carried by Homo sapiens migrating out of Africa was responsible for the gradual extinction of our prehistoric cousins in the same way that European illnesses ravaged Native American populations in the sixteenth century. "Modern humans brought illnesses they could survive themselves, but for Neanderthals they were deadly," Sørensen said.
     Sørensen's article challenges the leading theories about why Neanderthals disappeared from Europe 30,000 years ago. Those theories suggest that the stockier Neanderthals were unable to adapt to a changing climate or that they were killed off as humans encroached on their territory. But according to Sørensen, skeletal remains show no conclusive evidence that Neanderthals had been killed as a result of violence caused by humans. He hopes efforts currently underway to map the DNA from the remains of a 38,000 year-old Neanderthal found in Croatia can uncover evidence to support his theory. Similar methods, he said, have been used to identify tuberculosis in 5,000 year-old remains discovered in Egypt.

Sources: The Copenhagen Post, JP.dk (7 July 2009)

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