A big question plaguing paleoanthropologists - that is, people who study ancient humans - is just when did Neanderthals disappear?
Neanderthals probably died out earlier than we thought
Homo Neanderthalensis, Who Ranged From Western Europe To Central Asia For 100,000 Years Before Dying Out About 30,000 Years Ago. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)
Skeleton Of A Neanderthal (Homo Neanderthalensis) Compared With A Skeleton Of A Modern Human (Homo Sapiens). (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)
A visitor looks at 'El Neandertal Emplumado', a scientificly based impression of the face of a Neanderthal who lived some 50,000 years ago by Italian scientist Fabio Fogliazza during the inauguration of the exhibition 'Cambio de Imagen' (Change of Image) at the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos on June 10, 2014. AFP PHOTO / CESAR MANSO (Photo credit should read CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images)
A Neanderthal jaw bone found in the Vindija cave site in Croatia is seen in this handout photo. Neanderthals and modern humans may have coexisted in central Europe for thousands of years, possibly even mating, according to new radiocarbon dating of this and other bones from the Vindija cave Monday, Oct. 25, 1999. (AP Photo/Croatian Academy of Sciences via NIU)
The skeleton of a Neanderthal found at Shanidar cave in Irbil and datable to about 45000 years ago, is displayed at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. Tens of thousands of artifacts chronicling some 7,000 years of civilization in Mesopotamia are believed to have been looted from Iraq in the chaos which followed the the US-led invasion in 2003. Despite international efforts to track items down, fewer than half of the artifacts have so far been retrieved. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Nach rund 40.000 Jahren treffen am Freitag, 20. Maerz 2009, erstmals die beiden Neanderthaler "N", links, und "Wilma" im Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann aufeinander. Die Rekonstruktion des 1856 in der Feldhofer Grotte gefundenen "N" steht seit 2006 im Museum und hat nun einen weiblichen Part in der fuer das amerikanische Magazin National Geopgraphic rekonstruierten "Wilma" gefunden. Sie wurde von den niederlaendischen Kuenstler Alfons und Adrie Kennis auf einem idealisierten Neanderthalerskelett des American Museum of Natural History in New York aufgebaut. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) --- The prehistoric Neanderthal man "N", left, is visited for the first time by another reconstruction of a homo neanderthalensis called "Wilma", right, at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, Germany, Friday, March 20, 2009. The world famous fossil "N" is about 40.000 years old and was found 1856 at the Feldhofer grotto at the Neander Valley in Mettmann, western Germany. "Wilma" was built by Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis for the National Geographic magazine on a skeleton from the American museum of natural history in New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
ITALY - JUNE 15: Neanderthal fossil skull (Homo neanderthalensis), profile, found in Mount Circeo, Lazio, Italy. Rome, Museo Di Paleontologia (Paleonthology Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
French paleontologist Henri De Lumley shows a skull uncovered in 1971 at the prehistoric site of Caune de l'Arago in Tautavel on July 16, 2013. Forty years after the discovery of the Man of Tautavel, homo erectus tautavelensis, the Caune de l'Arago still provides a wealth of clues for researchers, who in 2011 discoverd a baby tooth, suggesting Homo heidelbergensis, probably the ancestor of Homo sapiens in Africa and the Neanderthals in Europe, led a family life in the cave. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG (Photo credit should read RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images)
German Finance minister Peer Steinbrueck laughs as he poses next to a reconstruction of a Neanderthal Man as he visits the Neanderthalmuseum in Mettmann, western Germany, 20 November 2007. AFP PHOTO DDP/MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Most thought our early human ancestors went extinct about 30,000 years ago, but dating really old bones can get tricky. And in what The New York Times called "the most definitive answer yet," a new study suggests Neanderthals actually disappeared from Europe 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.
The simplest way we can explain it is that researchers used radiocarbon dating but removed contaminants they think were making samples seem older than they actually were.
Including the extinction date we just discussed and the fact the study suggests Neanderthals and modern humans coexisted and interbred for thousands of years. And New Scientist focuses on the revelation that humans played a role in Neanderthal extinction, characterizing us as "an invasive species."
Another theory the study might have turned on its head: That Neanderthals disappeared all at once. Instead, researchers think their evidence suggests it happened "at different times in different regions."