Report: Inferiority To Modern Humans Not Responsible For Neanderthal Extinction
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Neanderthals were not actually intellectually inferior to humans, and may have been wiped out not because they were dim-witted, but because of inbreeding with modern man, according to research published in the April 30 edition of the journal PLOS One.
Neanderthals, which thrived in Eurasia for over 300,000 years, disappeared approximately 40,000 years ago. Many commonly-held theories blame their inferiority to modern humans in terms of hunting, communication and adaptability for their extinction, but researchers from University of Colorado Boulder and the Netherlands believe otherwise.
Based on an extensive review of genetic data and other new evidence, study authors Professor Wil Roebroeks from Leiden University and Dr. Paola Villa from the University of Colorado Museum have determined that there is no proof to support the notion that Neanderthals died out because they were less advanced than anatomically modern humans.
“Genetic studies now suggest that the debate on the demise of the Neanderthals needs to be reframed in terms of some degree of interbreeding,” the authors wrote, according to The Daily Mail. “In that sense, Neanderthals did not go extinct, even though their distinctive morphology did disappear. We conclude that all the ‘archaeology-based’ explanations for the demise of the Neanderthals… are flawed.”
Dr. Villa and Prof. Roebroeks systematically tested the strength of some of the previous archeologically-derived explanations as to why Neanderthals became extinct, including their supposed lack of complex language, their inability to innovate, and their poor weapon-making and hunting skills. They then compared the Neanderthal record not to modern humans, but to that of their African Middle Stone Age contemporaries.
They discovered that the gaps between the two populations in these areas were too small to attribute their demise to cognitive or behavior inferiority. The authors went on to analyze genetic data obtained from Neanderthal remains and found that interbreeding could be responsible for the disappearance of the morphology from the fossil record.
“The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there,” Dr. Villa explained in a statement Wednesday. “What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true. Researchers were comparing Neanderthals not to their contemporaries on other continents but to their successors.”
“It would be like comparing the performance of Model T Fords, widely used in America and Europe in the early part of the last century, to the performance of a modern-day Ferrari and conclude that Henry Ford was cognitively inferior to Enzo Ferrari,” Dr. Villa added. Rather than cognitive or technological inferiority, she and Prof. Roebroeks believe that there is a more complex reason that the Neanderthals became extinct.
In fact, in contrast to the portrayal of Neanderthals as stupid creatures, Jennifer Viegas of Discovery News suggests that they were actually skilled in many different ways. For example, fossil evidence suggests that they could herd bison into sinkholes where they could be killed, that they could survive cold weather due to controlled use of fire, and that studies have linked the making of weatherproof leather clothing using bone tools to Neanderthals.
Recent analyses of Neanderthal genome in the past few years suggest that interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals likely resulted in male offspring that had reduced fertility. In addition, these studies also suggest that Neanderthals lived in small groups – a factor that could have contributed to their populations eventually being overrun and assimilated by the increasing number of modern immigrants invading their land.