Neanderthal man
Struggled: Neanderthal man, like above, fared worse than we thought during the Ice Age, according to experts
Neanderthals were not wiped out by humans - and faced extinction even before our ancestors migrated to Europe, according to scientists.

Debunking long-held claims that we introduced disease or brutally murdered them, researchers say our rival species was more likely to have succumbed to the Ice Age.

Only a small band survived that catastrophe which began 50,000 years ago, according to experts at Uppsala University analysing fossils in northern Spain.

They believe the last of the few perished 30,000 years ago after they were unable to deal with the brutal climate.

Our ancestors, who came from the east 40,000 years ago, however, were better suited to the cold conditions and weathered the storms.

Dr Love Dalén said: 'The fact that Neanderthals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us.

'This indicates that the Neanderthals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought.'

The extremely limited genetic variation found in the severely degraded DNA in later Neanderthal fossils indicates a tiny population.

Cave-dwelling Neanderthals
Small band: Cave-dwelling Neanderthals were reduced to just a few by 50,000 years ago. And, by 30,000 years ago they were dead
'The amount of genetic variation in geologically older Neanderthals as well as in Asian Neanderthals was just as great as in modern humans as a species,' Dr Anders Götherström told

'Whereas the variation among later European Neanderthals was not even as high as that of modern humans in Iceland.'

The possibility that the cold killed the Neanderthals raises the question of how our species would have fared against full strength population.

It now seems likely that we might not have survived such an invasion.