Study questions Neandertal inferiority to early modern humans

Neandertal demise may be the result of interbreeding, assimilation, not early modern human superiority

The embargo has been lifted for the article, ‘Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex.’

An analysis of the archaeological records of Neandertals and their modern human contemporaries has found that complex interbreeding and assimilation may have been responsible for Neandertal disappearance 40,000 years ago, in contrast to many current theories, according to results published April 30, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Paola Villa from the University of Colorado Museum and Wil Roebroeks from Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Neandertals thrived in Eurasia for more than 300,000 years but vanished around 40,000 years ago, around the same time that modern humans entered Europe. Archaeologists have developed many theories to explain their disappearance, and many of these suggest that modern-day humans were superior in a wide range of ways, including weaponry and subsistence strategies.

This superiority may have eventually led to the demise of Neandertals. However, new evidence, including genetic data, suggest that differences between Neandertals and modern humans in Africa may not be so clear as previously thought.

In this study, scientists systematically tested the strength of some of the archaeologically derived explanations for Neandertal extinction, such as the Neandertals’ supposed lack of complex language, inferior capacity for innovation, inferior hunting ability, and smaller social networks, as well as other environmental explanations, including harsh climate or volcanic eruptions that occurred at the time of their decline.

If the Neandertal record is compared to that of African Middle Stone Age human contemporaries, instead of the modern humans that succeeded them, the differences between them and humans in their capacities, like weaponry, subsistence, and use of symbols are too small to explain their demise in terms of cognitive or behavioral inferiority.

Instead, the authors argue, genetic data recently obtained from Neandertal skeletal remains suggest that complex and drawn-out processes of interbreeding and assimilation may have been responsible for the disappearance of the specific Neandertal morphology from the fossil record.

Header Image : WikiPedia

Contributing Source : PLOS

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  • Michael C. Lucas

    One of the most innate human fallacies is the arrogance of our superiority to anything else…

  • Hannah Sims

    It’s always nice to see your pet theory gain traction. Interbreeding always made more sense than annihilation.

  • disqus_XyY1yxFVHk

    Neandertals had bigger brains than us, were stronger than us, and developed the technology to survive in a cold climate. So not the most primitive of early humans. Since our genome shows we are part Neandertal and part Denisovian and part someone yet undiscovered etc. – it does look like when different clans met they either killed each other or made dinner and had fun afterwards.

  • PS85

    They found points from complex projectile weapons in Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point Excavation in South Africa dated 70K years ago, (stone point), and 60K years ago, (bone point). We don’t know if the Homo Sapiens who left Africa to go to the Middle East and Europe had those yet-the earliest spear thrower point we’ve found in Europe is 32K years old, from the Gravettian culture. We don’t know if it took that long to spread up to Europe from South Africa, or if the Gravettians invented the spear thrower independently 32K years ago. At any rate, no projectile weapons-not even a thrown spear-has been associated with Neanderthals. So Homo Sapiens in Africa-and later out of Africa-could kill game up to 50 yards away with a spear thrower, and Neanderthal had to figure a way to walk up to the animal and kill it.

    And they say Homo Sapien and Neanderthal had comparable technology and hunting techniques? Hard to believe.

  • Sanna Blum

    @disqus_XyY1yxFVHk:disqus : they may have had that, but they had a much higher need of calories due to their energy management (many muscles, big brain, higher body temperature) and weren´t very adaptive to climate changes or other environmental factors.