In a small cave along the rocky coast of Gibraltar 28,000 years ago a Neandertal died, possibly the last of his kind. After more than 200,000 years of existence in Europe and Western Asia, the closest living relative to Homo sapiens had gone extinct.
Scientists have long debated what led to their disappearance. The latest theories focus on rapid climate changes and subtle differences in behavior and biology that might have given modern humans an advantage over Neandertals. In her article in the August 2009 Scientific American, Kate Wong probes these and other extinction theories, concluding in part that the precise factors varied from group to group, with perhaps some perishing from disease, others from inbreeding.
She notes that more clues about their disappearance may come from an analysis of the Neandertal genome, which is currently underway. This video, The Twilight of the Neandertals, sums up the efforts to solve this Stone Age whodunit.