Neanderthals in Europe were extinct even before the arrival of modern man, according to researchers from Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, Universidad Complutense of Madrid and Uppsala University.
The discovery has been made while studying the ancient DNA extracted from the bones of Neanderthals. The DNA clearly showed that most Neanderthals in Europe died as early as 50,000 years ago.
DNA extracted from the older European Neanderthal fossils and the fossils from Asia clearly indicate that most of the Neanderthals were extinct even before the arrival of modern man, suggested the study.
Only a small group of Neanderthals recolonised central and western Europe, where they survived for another 10,000 years before modern humans arrived.
Researchers believe that Neanderthals were extinct because of the climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age.
"The fact that Neandertals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us. This indicates that the neandertals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought", said Love Dalén, Associate Professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm in a statement.
"This type of interdisciplinary study is extremely valuable in advancing research about our evolutionary history. DNA from prehistoric people has led to a number of unexpected findings in recent years, and it will be really exciting to see what further discoveries are made in the coming years", said Juan Luis Arsuaga, professor of human paleontology at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid.