Neanderthals could have survived in Scandinavia

New research shows that southern Scandinavia was warm enough for Neanderthals to settle. So why didn’t they?

Mikkel Andreas Beck

Source -

Shutterstock 230240842Did Neanderthals ever make it to Scandinavia? If not, then it wasn’t the climate that kept them away. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Did Neanderthals ever reach Scandinavia?

Scientists have debated this question for years. Some argue that they never reached so far north because it was simply too cold.

But new research knocks this on the head, and shows that Scandinavia was not cold enough to deter the Neanderthals.

Lead-author Trine Kellberg Nielsen, a PhD student in prehistoric archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark used climate models to figure out where Neanderthals might have been able to survive.

The new results are published in the scientific journal Quaternary International.

Neanderthals may well have lived here

"What is new here is that we’ve used advanced propagation models to view the historical spread of animal and plant species and calculate where Neanderthals may have settled,” says Nielsen.

From the known locations where we find evidence of Neanderthals, it’s possible to estimate the conditions they lived in using the model," says Nielsen, who was particularly interested to know where they could have survived around 120,000 years ago.

"We can see that from a climate point of view, they could easily have lived in southern Scandinavia during an interglacial period. There is no climate-related border [here]," says Nielsen.

Although she does not rule out the possibility that other physical barriers could still have prevented Neanderthals from migrating so far north.

"In this interglacial period the temperature was higher, but so were sea levels. There are strong indications that the Baltic Sea and the North Sea were at one time connected by water over southern Denmark. So there may have been a sea that Neanderthals were unable to cross," says Nielsen.

Neanderthals were adaptable

55 nordlig breddegrad255 degrees North: Was this as far north as Neanderthals ever got? (Photo:

There’s no evidence that Neanderthals either lived in Scandinavia. But that does not mean that they weren’t there, says Nielsen.

There is evidence that Neanderthals were living close by--in northern Germany and just south of the modern day Danish border.

Neanderthals were enormously flexible and adaptable. They survived for 200,000 to 300,000 years despite violent fluctuations in climate and their environment.

We don’t know for sure whether or not Neanderthals ever settled in Scandinavia, says Nielson. "I can’t say whether or not they've been there, only that it can’t be ruled out based on the climate."

Breathes new life into debate

Ole Bennike, a senior scientist from the Department of Marine Geology, at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), is impressed by the study, and describes the use of propagation models as exciting and breathing new life into the debate about Neanderthals in Scandinavia.

According to Bennike, there are several lines of evidence to suggest that the southern Scandinavian climate was no harsher than other locations where it has already been established that Neanderthals lived.

Climate-wise, there is nothing to prevent it [Neanderthals from living in Scandinavia]. Of course, it was warmer further south, but not by much,” says Bennike.

Translated by Catherine Jex