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 Neanderthals' large eyes 'caused their demise'

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PostSubject: Neanderthals' large eyes 'caused their demise'   Wed Mar 13, 2013 9:09 am

A study of Neanderthal skulls suggests that they became extinct because they had larger eyes than our species.

As a result, more of their brains were devoted to seeing in the long, dark nights in Europe, at the expense of high-level processing.

This ability enabled our species, Homo sapiens, to fashion warmer clothes and develop larger social networks, helping us to survive the ice age in Europe.

The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Neanderthals are a closely related species of human that lived in Europe from around 250,000 years ago. They coexisted and interacted briefly with our species until they went extinct about 28,000 years ago, in part due to an ice age.

The research team explored the idea that the ancestor of Neanderthals left Africa and had to adapt to the longer, darker nights and murkier days of Europe. The result was that Neanderthals evolved larger eyes and a much larger visual processing area at the backs of their brains.

The humans that stayed in Africa, on the other hand, continued to enjoy bright and beautiful days and so had no need for such an adaption. Instead, these people, our ancestors, evolved their frontal lobes, associated with higher-level thinking, before they spread across the globe.

Eiluned Pearce of Oxford University decided to check this theory. She compared the skulls of 32 Homo sapiens and 13 Neanderthals.

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