In Soul Lifter, my supernatural horror novel, an eccentric fictional professor puts forward his own controversial theory. Meanwhile, the real reasons for their disappearance continue to be uncovered.
It is thought Homo sapiens and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor that probably lived in Africa 400,000 years ago. Ancestors of the Neanderthals moved to Europe and Asia, while the modern-human strand remained in Africa. Recent research suggests humans entered Europe about 45,000 years ago - yet just five thousand years later the Neanderthals had been largely wiped out. So what had happened?
Explanations range from violent conflict between the two species through to a natural disaster, while attention is now turning to how successfully each species adapted to their environment. Research carried out by the University of Oxford and the Natural History Museum, London, supports the theory that modern humans were at a distinct cerebral advantage here. The upshot appears to be that they were able to devote more time and energy to social networking, which saw them out-compete the Neanderthals in the rush for resources amid the onset of another ice age.
As consensus on this theory builds, some intriguing lessons from our past are also being discovered. A recent article in Nature shed more light on the level of interbreeding that occurred between the two species. Although it is believed to have occurred on a small scale, the advantages of some inherited Neanderthal genes were so advantageous that they multiplied and remain with modern humans today, especially in our ability to adapt to cold climates.
Conversely, according to the findings of Harvard Medical School Geneticists published in Nature, we may also be able to lay blame for our susceptibility to diseases such as type 2 diabetes and Crohn's disease at the door of the Neanderthals.
Whatever the precise reasons for the demise of our distant cousins may be, their legacy remains very much alive.