Supervolcano That May Have Wiped out Neanderthals Comes to Life Again

Supervolcano That May Have Wiped out Neanderthals Comes to Life Again

(Read the article on one page)

A huge area of volcanic activity near heavily populated Naples, Italy, is reaching a critical point and scientists think it could erupt. The 12-kilometer (7.46 miles) caldera or volcanic cauldron hasn’t erupted for nearly 500 years, but scientists say the seismic monster is reawakening. Some researchers speculate that when Campi Flegrei, which translates from Italian as Burning Fields, erupted about 39,000 years ago it may have wiped out the Neanderthals. Although there is no definitive evidence for this, the fact that the caldera has the potential to devastate a large region of Italy and could even cause volcanic winter worldwide is not in question.

An 1845 map of Campi Flegrei by the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London.

An 1845 map of Campi Flegrei by the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The caldera has 24 craters and some large volcanic edifices, most under the Mediterranean Sea. It formed 39,000 years ago during the most catastrophic volcanic explosion in Europe for 200,000 years, says Science Alert .

Scientists call these types of geological feature supervolcanos, which form large fields of volcanic eruptions and spew so much magma from below that they collapse and leave behind a big crater. The supervolcano landscape generates hydrothermal activity, geysers and sulfuric acid.

Campi Flegrei has had just three eruptions—two large ones 39,000 and 12,000 years ago. A “smaller” one in 1538 was so great that it lasted for eight days and put out such huge releases of lava that it formed Monte Nuovo, a new mountain.

Monte Nuovo was formed during an eruption of Campi Flegrei in 1538.

Monte Nuovo was formed during an eruption of Campi Flegrei in 1538. ( Wikimedia Commons phot o/yiftah-s)

One eruption of Campi Flegrei was so huge that researchers speculate it killed off the Neanderthals. Modern Homo sapiens survived because they lived farther away from the volcanic activity, these researchers say.

While the connection of the demise of the Neanderthals remains purely speculative until further evidence can be found, the eruption, which is thought to have spewed almost 1 trillion gallons (3.7 trillion litres) of molten rock onto the surface - along and with just as much sulfur into the atmosphere - is not.

Another reason Homo sapiens may have outlived Neanderthals was because of a population vacuum of Neanderthals in Europe and a revolution in technological and social advancements that people came up with shortly after 40,000 years ago.

Sulfur in a burning landscape at Campi Flegrei near Naples, Italy

Sulfur in a burning landscape at Campi Flegrei near Naples, Italy ( Wikipedia photo /Donar Reiskoffer)

Scientists can’t accurately predict when a volcano will blow, though they monitor volcanoes, especially near populated areas such as Naples with 500,000 people. Volcanic eruption predictions are an imprecise science.

But volcanologist Giovanni Chiodini of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and his team are saying Campi Flegrei seems to be nearing the point of eruption and is in a state of critical degassing pressure. Their paper in the journal Nature Communications states:

We propose that magma could be approaching the CDP at Campi Flegrei, a volcano in the metropolitan area of Naples, one of the most densely inhabited areas in the world, and where accelerating deformation and heating are currently being observed.

The CDP at Campi Flegrei could result in release of jets of super-hot gases into the atmosphere and could heat rocks and hydrothermal fluids that could cause rock failure and even an eruption.

This phenomenon has been observed at two other active volcanoes, one in Papua New Guinea and one in the Galapagos Islands. “Both showed acceleration in ground deformation before eruption with a pattern similar to that observed at Campi Flegrei,” Chiodini told The Guardian .

There are many uncertainties about this possible volcanic activity, Chiodini told The Washington Post . Campi Flegrei may evolve in both directions, toward conditions of pre-eruption or even to the demise of any volcanic unrest.

Top image: The dramatic eruption of Mt Vesuvius. ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller


It's highly unlikely that Neanderthals were wiped out by this volcano's eruption 39,000 years ago for 2 reasons. 1) a recent redating of Neanderthal remains shows that they became extinct earlier than previously thought. Most likely about 43,000 years ago which is 4 thousand years before the aforementioned eruption and 2) because Neanderthals never went extinct in the classical sense of the word. Rather, they seem to have been absorbed into Homo sapiens via introgressive hybridization.

Gordon Hervey's picture

This link is for the December 20 paper published in Nature.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Denisova cave, some 150 km (93 mi) south of the city of Barnaul, is the only source of Denisovan's remains. Pictures: The Siberian Times
The distance from the only currently known home of the Denisovans in Altai region to the nearest point of Australia is roughly akin to the length of the Trans-Siberian railway, and yet it is looking increasingly likely that these ancient species of humanoids somehow made this epic journey deep in pre-history, perhaps 65,000 years ago.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Human Origins

Sumerian creation myth
Sumer , or the ‘land of civilized kings’, flourished in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, around 4500 BC. Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and...

Ancient Technology

The School of Athens
Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article