There have long been debates about what caused the mass extinction of mega-fauna at the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago (Quaternary Extinction Event). Similarly, scientists still don't know what happened when Hairy (Neanderthals) met Sally (Sapiens Sapiens) at roughly the same time.
The answer to both question has been provided thanks to scientific advances in genome sequencing: dogs.
This thought is apropos of a report on what genome sequencing is telling us about the decline and fall of the Woolly Mammoth:
“We don’t know why,” said the senior author of the new report, Love Dalen, an associate professor of biology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. “Human hunting, changes in the environment, warming of the temperatures. But it happens everywhere — that’s for sure — and at the same time.”
But we do know what happened. The reason science hasn't put it all together yet is a longstanding belief that humans domesticated dogs sometime after we developed agriculture about 10,000 years ago.
But it turns out that dogs came first, possibly as early as 32,000 years ago according to genetic analyses.
When scientists synthesize the genetic and archeological data, here's what they will find: The doom of the Neanderthal and the woolly mammoth were both sealed when friendly wolves hitched their survival to modern humans and our two species, working together, became the world's greatest hunters.
The dog/human hunting team had dramatic consequences. Human and dog populations boomed but all the fantastic food was hunted to extinction. What to do?
the answer was agriculture. Dogs were soon shepherding sheep instead of chasing mammoths. And cheap carbs filled the gap that used to be satisfied by quality protein. We survived, but the fun was over. Diabetes and climate change were now on the way.
UPDATE: I never said these were original ideas, but I did just find what I'm sure is the immediate source that led me to write this post. I probably heard the contents of "How Hunting With Wolves Helped Us Outsmart Neanderthals" on the Guardian Science Weekly Podcast that I listen to.