New research suggests that Neanderthals died out earlier than previously expected.
New research suggests that Neanderthals died out earlier than previously expected.

The results of a five-year research project will offer new insights into how human beings triumphed over Neanderthals in the battle for survival.

At a three-day conference at the British Museum this week researchers will show how new historical dating techniques have allowed them to establish that Homo Sapiens moved from its African homeland into Europe much earlier than previously believed, and Neanderthals died out much sooner.

Evidence will be presented showing that Neanderthals had a similar-sized brain to humans, but were not as intelligent. They had evolved large eyes to be able to see in the darker European winters and long nights, and used a lot of brain capacity processing the information.

Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum told the Observer: "Neanderthal brains were as big as modern humans' but the former had bigger bodies. More of their brain cells would have been needed to control these larger bodies, on top of the added bits of cortex needed for their enhanced vision. That means they had less brain-power available to them compared with modern humans."

Modern humans developed larger frontal cortexes. This would have allowed them to develop language and form networks of clans which would have provided one another with support in the Ice Age and allow them to roam far from their homes.

Careful dating of prehistoric finds means that humans are now believed to have arrived in Europe 45,000 years ago, 15,000 years earlier than previously believed.

5,000 years later, Neanderthals were virtually extinct.

Stringer said: "There may not have been a single cause of Neanderthal extinction. They may have disappeared in different regions for different reasons, but the background cause is clear. They didn't have the numbers."

Evidence will be presented to the conference from new radiocarbon dating techniques developed by the Reset (Response of humans to abrupt environmental transitions) research team.  

The explosion of the Camp Flegrei volcano west of Naples 39,000 years ago showered 60 cubic miles of ash into the atmosphere, across 1.4 million square miles, causing temperatures to fall dramatically across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia.

Experimenting on the ash layer, scientists discovered there appeared to be no Neanderthal sites 39,000 years ago - 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.

"Previous research on Neanderthal sites which suggested they were more recent than 40,000 years old appear to be wrong.

"That is a key finding that will be discussed at the conference," said Professor Stringer.