Neanderthals may have been sprinters rather than endurance runnersAlamy Stock Photo By New Scientist Staff and Press AssociationWe may have to rewrite what we know about Neanderthals — they were sprinters rather than long distance joggers, and occupied forests, not bleak tundra-like wasteland. Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago. Evidence had suggested they were adapted to the…
We may have to rewrite what we know about Neanderthals — they were sprinters rather than long distance joggers, and occupied forests, not bleak tundra-like wasteland.
Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago. Evidence had suggested they were adapted to the cold, harsh conditions of the last ice age and Neanderthal fossil remains have often been associated with ice age mammals such as mammoths, woolly rhinos, horses and reindeer.
However, a new analysis suggests a different view. “A closer look at the layers in which their fossils are found suggest Neanderthals actually lived at the same times and places as animals that are associated with warmer, woodland ecologies,” says John Stewart at the University of Bournemouth, who led the study.
<div id="video-mid-article" class="mpu"> </div> <p>In such an environment, hunting in short bursts would be more favoured, says Stewart, “more power sprint than endurance jog.”</p><div class="box-out"><h4>Read more: Some people have slightly squashed heads thanks to Neanderthal DNA</h4></div><p>This conclusion was also backed up by a genetic analysis that found a high proportion of gene variants linked to power sports performance in modern-day athletes in the Neanderthal genetic code.
“We found that the majority of these power-associated genetic variants were typically more common in Neanderthals than in humans today, who are known to be more endurance-adapted, reflecting their generally more slender builds,” says Yoan Diekmann, a member of the team at University College London.
Neanderthals belonged to a separate branch of the human family tree to modern humans, but the two co-existed in Europe for thousands of years. They were already in Europe and Asia long before the ancestors of people living today migrated out of Africa.
Neanderthals were once widely thought of as stupid, brutish creatures more similar to apes than humans. Now they are known to have shared many traits in common with early modern humans, including the skilful use of tools and weapons, complex social lives and possibly language.
There is also strong evidence that some Neanderthals and early modern humans interbred. Between 1 per cent and 2 per cent of the DNA of people of European or Asian descent living today has been inherited from Neanderthals.
Journal reference:Quaternary Science Reviews, DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2018.12.023
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