What Really Caused Neanderthals to Go Extinct? New Study Has Shocking Answer

Eustachian Tube Neanderthal Man Crop

This illustration shows the structure of the Eustachian Tube in Neanderthal Man and it’s similarity to the human infant. Credit: SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

A 21st century nuisance for parents may have proved deadly to early man.

It is one of the great unsolved mysteries of anthropology. What killed off the Neanderthals, and why did Homo sapiens thrive even as Neanderthals withered to extinction? Was it some sort of plague specific only to Neanderthals? Was there some sort of cataclysmic event in their homelands of Eurasia that lead to their disappearance?

A new study from a team of physical anthropologists and head & neck anatomists suggests a less dramatic but equally deadly cause.

Published online by the journal, The Anatomical Record, the study, “Reconstructing the Neanderthal Eustachian Tube: New Insights on Disease Susceptibility, Fitness Cost, and Extinction” suggests that the real culprit in the demise of the Neanderthals was not some exotic pathogen.

Instead, the authors believe the path to extinction may well have been the most common and innocuous of childhood illnesses — and the bane of every parent of young children — chronic ear infections.

“It’s not just the threat of dying of an infection. If you are constantly ill, you would not be as fit and effective in competing with your Homo sapien cousins for food and other resources. In a world of survival of the fittest, it is no wonder that modern man, not Neanderthal, prevailed.” — Professor Samuel Márquez, Ph.D.

“It may sound far-fetched, but when we, for the first time, reconstructed the Eustachian tubes of Neanderthals, we discovered that they are remarkably similar to those of human infants,” said coinvestigator and Downstate Health Sciences University Associate Professor Samuel Márquez, Ph.D., “Middle ear infections are nearly ubiquitous among infants because the flat angle of an infant’s Eustachian tubes is prone to retain the otitis media bacteria that cause these infections — the same flat angle we found in Neanderthals.”

In this age of antibiotics, these infections are easy to treat and relatively benign for human babies. Additionally, around age 5, the Eustachian tubes in human children lengthen and the angle becomes more acute, allowing the ear to drain, all but eliminating these recurring infections beyond early childhood.

But unlike modern humans, the structure of the Eustachian tubes in Neanderthals do not change with age — which means these ear infections and their complications, including respiratory infections, hearing loss, pneumonia, and worse, would not only become chronic, but a lifelong threat to overall health and survival.

“Here is yet another intriguing twist on the ever-evolving Neanderthal story, this time involving a part of the body that researchers had almost entirely neglected. It adds to our gradually emerging picture of the Neanderthals as very close relatives who nonetheless differed in crucial respects from modern man.” — Ian Tattersall, Ph.D.

“It’s not just the threat of dying of an infection,” said Dr. Márquez. “If you are constantly ill, you would not be as fit and effective in competing with your Homo sapien cousins for food and other resources. In a world of survival of the fittest, it is no wonder that modern man, not Neanderthal, prevailed.”

“The strength of the study lies in reconstructing the cartilaginous Eustachian tube,” said Richard Rosenfeld, MD, MPH, MBA, Distinguished Professor and Chairman of Otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate and a world-renowned authority on children’s health. “This new and previously unknown understanding of middle ear function in Neanderthal is what allows us to make new inferences regarding the impact on their health and fitness.”

“Here is yet another intriguing twist on the ever-evolving Neanderthal story, this time involving a part of the body that researchers had almost entirely neglected,” said Ian Tattersall, Ph.D., paleoanthropologist and Curator Emeritus of the American Museum of National History. “It adds to our gradually emerging picture of the Neanderthals as very close relatives who nonetheless differed in crucial respects from modern man.”

###

Reference: “Reconstructing the Neanderthal Eustachian Tube: New Insights on Disease Susceptibility, Fitness Cost, and Extinction” by Anthony Santino Pagano, Samuel Márquez and Jeffrey T. Laitman, 31 August 2019, The Anatomical Record.
DOI: 10.1002/ar.24248

19 Comments on "What Really Caused Neanderthals to Go Extinct? New Study Has Shocking Answer"

  1. Funny. They didn’t go extinct, they interbred with homosapien. Hence the reason for the Neanderthal genes being found in modern humans. So this article just shows that ear infections have plagued people forever. Wow, such a breakthrough for modern science!

  2. They survived 500000 yes in ice age Europe. And instantly died with the arrival of humans

  3. Michael in Pittsburgh | October 26, 2019 at 12:17 pm | Reply

    Seems that the article is short on any sort of proof that they had chronic ear infections.

  4. why would they need to compete with modern humans? There was plenty of food and hardly any people in the world. This whole competiton model and the associated assumptions need a big
    revisit.

  5. Is uncosibale, that the Neanderthals,lived in Europe for mote than 115,000 Years and then sodenly diad out of rear infections!.

    • I wonder if the reason modern day humans inherited such small amounts of Neanderthal and /or Denisovan DNA, might possibly be due to the type of genetic variations in for example, the present day horse and the donkey, which almost always can only produce a female mule who often won’t be able to reproduce…???

  6. Not a particularly persuasive argument in the absence of additional evidence.

  7. Maria O'Connor | October 26, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Reply

    Are we sure they are extinct? They still live in us.
    Neanderthal and Denisovan mixed with modern homo sapiens that outnumber them. Same thing happened in Latin America with the European and Indigenous population.
    The majority of the mixed population of Latin America, specially in low lands/prairies of South America, are gaining more European genes
    each new generation usually from their father side. However they keep most of their indigenous culture acquired from their maternal side.
    Probably, something like that happened with Neanderthal and Denisovan. Probably the first mixture were Neaderthal or Denisovan father and Homo sapiens mother, and after a few generations the other way around.

  8. So after 500000 years, just when homo sapiens arrived, their ears caused their demise? Why did it take so long for their ears to so drastically affect them?

  9. Maybe a combination. Interbreeding with homo sapiens caused a change in structures within the skull generally, including these tubes, leading to increased infections? Do we need to look for neanderthal skulls from different periods and compare?

  10. Neanderthals were around for hundreds of thousands of years, with presumably the same inner ear structure, and it suddenly began causing inner ear infections, leading to the extinction of the entire species?
    I think not.

  11. More sketchy supposition with no evidence and almost no research. Might as well say that they were taken off planet by aliens. That has as much proof as all of the other explanations.

    • How do two totally different spieces interbreed yet t he offspring still remain fertile. Neanderthals are alive and well inside all non African homosapians they never were a different spieces.

  12. Simply put there are no missing links or Neanderthal. All of that stuff is fake and a lie. No human has ever evolved from an ape. Humans are not animals, humans are created in Gods image, not monkey image.

    • You are completely wrong. God, our Creator, created al things in the plant and animal kingdoms through directed, manipulated evolution. He created our entire 3-Dimensional time/space continuum with the Big Bang, from a separate location, possibly a different dimension. You grieve God when you promote false tales about Him. He does not murder humans. He has clearly communicated to us that “murder is forbidden”. This is why He allowed the human myth of the Noah story to persist: to communicate to us exactly that – that MURDER IS FORBIDDEN.

  13. Was Homo sapient not lucky enough to head north from Eastern Africa into Europe, etc. until 60,000 years ago (not counting the one migration to Australia 100,000 years ago)? NO. All previous ventures in smaller numbers resulted in getting killed and eaten by Neanderthals. The large migration probably occurred because other gene pools were attacking and killing the gene pool there in Africa that migrated. Humans would have been most vulnerable to attack at night, They developed sharpe sticks that could be thrown to spear fish, and the javelin developed from there (arrows were much later). They were faster than Neanderthals, and once they had the ability to throw javelins, in groups, at groups of Neanderthals and run away, they became able to dominate them, The Neanderthals used long, sharp, hand-held poles to kill large game, and never advanced in their weaponry. Perhaps they did not have the reasoning capacity to learn to throw spears. Homo sapiens wiped out the Neanderthals, as a matter of survival. The shared genes are most likely related to rape.

  14. I thought organisms of the same species can breed and produce offspring. This is why black, brown,yellow and white people can produce offspring from their Union.

  15. So the inference here is that modern humans introduced the bacteria causing the infections? This makes sense and would be a good explanation of why the Neanderthals disappeared shortly after we arrived in their environment.

  16. I think a variety of factors lead to the demise of the Neanderthals. They were outnumbered by modern humans who were faster than the Neanderthals and could therefore defeat them in battles as well as capture and enslave many of them. The modern humans probably brought diseases with them that Neanderthals were highly succeptable to as well. Both consensual and non-consensual sex would have likely occurred between the groups (especially the Neanderthals that were enslaved). All told, it was a wonder they lasted as long as they did.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.