December 5, 2006

"So what did Neanderthal women do all day?"

The usual evidence of division of labor by sex -- needles, small animal remains, grinding stones -- is missing, so anthropologists Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner theorize that the women must have joined the men in hunting for large animals. But -- assuming the theory is correct -- don't cheer over the modern-seeming enlightenment of the Neanderthals. The Neanderthals died out, and our ancestors, with their division of labor, won the struggle for survival.

But there's an alternate theory:
A rival hypothesis proposed by Richard Klein of Stanford University holds that some cognitive advance like the perfection of language underlay the burst of innovative behavior shown by Upper Paleolithic people and their predecessors in Africa.

Why did the Neanderthals fail to adapt when modern humans arrived on their doorstep? Under Dr. Klein’s hypothesis, the reason is simply that they were cognitively less advanced.
Does this say anything about us? As you think about yourself and what we are, does it make any difference if the truth is as Kuhn and Stiner have it or as Klein does?

IN THE COMMENTS: Madison Man says: "I'm guessing that cognitively less advanced is anthrospeak for dumber. It must be too judgemental to call Neanderthals stupid -- even though that's what the adjective means!" It's funny that we feel that it's wrong to disrespect the Neanderthal. But I have that feeling!

ADDED: UW anthro professor John Hawks is reading the the Kuhn-Stiner paper. He comments:
[T]en years ago, we were arguing about whether Neandertals could hunt at all, or whether instead they were ineffective scavengers depending on carnivore handouts.

I suppose those days must be behind us, because now we read Neandertals were such committed big game hunters that they needed their females and kids to hunt along with them, which fatally compromised their ability to find and exploit small animals and plant foods.

Apparently it took some tropical mojo to make modern women realize they could eat plant foods like every other primate.

93 comments:

MadisonMan said...

I'm guessing that cognitively less advanced is anthrospeak for dumber. It must be too judgemental to call Neanderthals stupid -- even though that's what the adjective means!

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that part of the answer may be that they were hunter-gatherers, and our ancestors were by then starting to settle down. The result was that while Neanderthals were probably stronger on a one-to-one basis, our ancestors had a higher population density, and were able to amass more fighers per square mile.

But I also think that there is some evidence that they were not as smart as our ancestors were. Their technology seems to have stagnated for some half a million years, while ours continued to progress (interestingly, there is some evidence apparently that right before their extinction, they seem to have picked up some of our technology). This may also indicate that we were better able to communicate.

Getting back to the Kuhn/Stiner theory: why shouldn't Neanderthal women also hunt? On a one-for-one basis, Neanderthals appear to have been significantly stronger than our human ancestors, and, thus, their women were most likely at least comparable to our male ancestors in terms of strength.

Goesh said...

Examination of male Neanderthal bones shows injuries consistent with those of rodeo cowboys. It seems they had to get up close and personal with the large animals they were hunting and were stomped, butted and gored by these critters. I suspect the women were stuck back in the cave with the kids since no female bones found show such injuries. I doubt the women ventured out too far to grub for roots and berries what with infants clinging to them and large predators on the move looking for an easy meal. A fire in the cave entrance would keep a saber toothed tiger at bay I suppose.

Gahrie said...

Of course it's wrong to disrespect the Neanderthal!

TV has told us so, and everything on TV is true.

Isn't that the whole thrust of the Geico commercials?

(some of my personal favorites by the way)

Bruce Hayden said...

Madisonman

But I think by our definition, they probably were dumber. As I noted in my previous post, their technology seemed to freeze for a half a million years, with tools early in that period being hard to distinguish from tools much later. Our ancestors on the other hand show a constant evolution in their toolmaking, etc.

My guess is that the Neanderthals had less pressure to develop their brains due to their larger size and strength. As a result, in the end we developed better tools and could coordinate better, and, thus, caused their extinction.

I say "we" above, because by the time that our ancestors killed off the last Neanderthals, those ancestors were not very different genetically from what we are today.

Daryl Herbert said...

It's funny that we feel that it's wrong to disrespect the Neanderthal. But I have that feeling!

and

I say "we" above, because by the time that our ancestors killed off the last Neanderthals, those ancestors were not very different genetically from what we are today.

Do you consider Neanderthals to be "human"--or at least "humanoid"--in the important ways? If at best they could be shown to have a bit more intelligence than a typical retarded person, should we bestow upon them as much respect as we bestow upon the retarded among us (that is to say, treat them like humans, but take into account that their dum)

I have a lot more warm & fuzzy feelings towards a Neanderthal than I do towards a dolphin or an African Gray Parrot or a chimpanzee. For one thing, if they were around today, crimes against them should probably be considered on par with crimes against humans.

Anonymous said...

I think this is interesting. I've seen/read a few things that suggest that the Neanderthals, to some extent, crossbred with Paleolithic humans. It's not so much that they died out as they were absorbed into the larger human community.

But that's just another theory.

Meade said...

The burst of innovative behavior may well have included the sexual division of labor. As a rule, females with breasts are better equipped for nurturing the next generation of cognitively advanced hunters while males tend to have a superior hormonal matrix for fighting and/or fleeing.

Rival hypotheses aren't necessarily either/or. They can be both/and.

bearbee said...

(Interestingly, there is some evidence apparently that right before their extinction, they seem to have picked up some of our technology)

The article mentions Neanderthals endured for about 100,000 years whereas the moderns arrived about 45,000 ago so they have about 55,000 years on us. Perhaps it was the technology that did them in. Will it be our technology that ultimately does us in?

chickenlittle said...

Kuhn and Steiner are obviously trying to undue the unflattering but inflinching "Bertha Butt" image put forward by the Jimmy Castor Bunch et al. circa 1972*

Lyrics reprinted here without permission. Add your own funky groove:

What we're gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time.
When the only people that existed were troglodytes...cave men...
cave women...Neanderthal...troglodytes. Let's take the average
cave man at home, listening to his stereo. Sometimes he'd get up,
try to do his thing. He'd begin to move, something like this:
"Dance...dance". When he got tired of dancing alone, he'd look
in the mirror: "Gotta find a woman gotta find a woman gotta find a
woman gotta find a woman". He'd go down to the lake where all the
woman would be swimming or washing clothes or something. He'd look
around and just reach in and grab one. "Come here...come here".
He'd grab her by the hair. You can't do that today, fellas, cause
it might come off. You'd have a piece of hair in your hand and she'd
be swimming away from you (ha-ha). This one woman just lay there,
wet and frightened. He said: "Move...move". She got up. She was a
big woman. BIG woman. Her name was Bertha. Bertha Butt. She was one
of the Butt sisters. He didn't care. He looked up at her and said:
"Sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me
sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me!". She looked down on him.
She was ready to crush him, but she began to like him. She said
(falsetto):
"I'll sock it to ya, Daddy". He said: "Wha?". She said (falsetto):
"I'll sock it to ya, Daddy". You know what he said? He started it way
back then. I wouldn't lie to you. When she said (falsetto)
"I'll sock it to ya, Daddy" he said "Right on! Right on! Hotpants!
Hotpants! Ugh...ugh...ugh".



*not available at itunes

Joe said...

Speculation about the origins of mankind always seems akin to extrapolating what a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle must look like from looking at 2 pieces. But it is fun.

SteveR said...

"I've seen/read a few things that suggest that the Neanderthals, to some extent, crossbred with Paleolithic humans. It's not so much that they died out as they were absorbed into the larger human community."

This coincided with the discovery of fermented drinks.

Pogo said...

Who says Neanderthals died out?

I mean, how else do you explain the Finnish "rock" group Lordi?
Or Rosie O'Donnell?
Or Iowa?

Balfegor said...

It's funny that we feel that it's wrong to disrespect the Neanderthal.

And yet, "Neanderthal" is a term of disrespect, right up there with "troglodyte." It's an insult, and one people deploy (or used to) regularly in print. See, e.g. here, or here (ignoring, for the moment, the ginned up outrage about an Irishman deploying the word against other minorities).

Meade said...

Right Pogo. As SteveR suggests, it was the discovery of fermented drinks by otherwise smart loquacious little paleo dudes which may have led to the cognitive distortion of an eight foot tall Neanderthal female hunter/fighter appearing... you know, mate-able.

Eli Blake said...

Goesh:

I've read about that. The problem with your theory is that the injuries suffered by rodeo cowboys are a very unique type of injury pattern, heavily concentrated towards the upper end of the body (the result of often being thrown off of an animal.) Lower body injuries, while there are some, are much more rare and much less severe.

Hunting would not cause a disproportionate number of upper body injuries (unless part of their hunting technique involved trying to ride on a saber tooth tiger-- in which case the people who claim they were inordinately stupid probably have a point.)

More likely they had a rodeo-type diversion (sports or other entertainment designed to fill idle time is also an ancient development). This may well have been engaged in only by men, but would be a seperate matter from hunting. It is also possible that such a 'sport' could have had religious significance.

Tim said...

Both theories, of course, can be correct, whether their authors think so or not. I don't think there is much utility to overlaying anthropological theories/guesses as to how Neanderthals lived, died out, or how our ancestors won out to our current situation as there is no apparent rival species of hominids, nor are we Neanderthals.

As discussed in previous comments, understanding the uses of technology and their effect upon us, both good and bad, is useful, but that seems distinct from the anthropology of Neanderthals.

Pogo said...

Eli
Or it's possible that Neanderthal men were thrown off of the burly Neanderthal women.


VW: ugaaqz
As in ugaaqz, ugaaqz, I can't stop this feelin'...deep inside of me...Girl, you just don't realize...What you do to me...Iiii'm hooked on a Bear-Woman....ugaaqz, ooga, ooga, ugaaqz

Icepick said...

Bruce, Neanderthals didn't start to appear until about 350,000 years ago, and full-blown Neaderthals only appeared about 150,000 years ago, so their technology couldn't have stagnated for 500,000 years. Also, H. Sapiens didn't settle down into agriculture until after Neanderthals had become extinct, at least in the habitats where they co-mingled.

Neanderthals were highly adapted to cold weather living. It's probable that their cultures and tech were also highly adapted to such extremes, much like Inuits in recent times. They may not have NEEDED to constantly upgrade their abilities. (In fact, it's not yet clear that our current obsession with innovation won't prove to be an adaptive dead-end from an evolutionary perspective.)

Finely, it's hard to make the case that Neanderthals were stupid. They were a very successful species in their day in a very difficult environment, and had larger brains than we do. Presumably those brains were used for something.

There's also the question of whether or not H. Sapiens and H. Neaderthalis interbred. For more on that one can read this, this, this, and this. In fact, if some of the theories are correct, the reason we're so damned smart is because of alelles we picked up from our cousins. Or more generally, look at the following page of links and start reading. (And note that there is no consesnsus on whether or not such interbreeding occurred.)

Liam Colvin said...

They,ve actually revised those injury findings, and have determined the remains came from a early race of pro wrestlers.

Icepick said...

Should have said 'hypotheses' instead of 'theories' above. And the fourth link is a bit of a joke. But only a bit! The second link above has the most meat. (Which is only appropriate.)

Anthony said...

Check John Hawks' blog for discussion on this. That link is to a short post on it, but he will undoubtedly have more.

I'm dubious myself but haven't posted anything on it yet.

Icepick said...

A few other corrections/notes:

Neanderthals were short and stocky, not eight feet tall. Evidence suggests males averaged around 5'5" tall, and the females were a little shorter.

Jokes about the attractiveness of their females is funny. It's been found that breeding selection based on physical attractiveness is related to the amount of pathgens in a given environment. The more pathogens present, the greater emphasis on physical attractiveness, presumably as an indicator of otherwise good health. (This is some reason to believe that the attractiveness of the nordic types is based in part on the high incidence of leprosy in Scandanavia up until relatively recent times.) You joke about their looks, and they can note how goddamned disease-ridden you are.

Lordi can be explained as a cheap Finnish knock-off of Gwar. They should stick to making cell phones.

And Joan, it wouldn't even be that Neanderthals were absorbed into the modern population so much as some of their alleles were absorbed.

Icepick said...

Anthony, thanks for the extra John Hawkes link. I hadn't seen that one.

lucas m said...

Evoloution...so easy a cave man could do it...

Hmm....Short,(under six feet) hairy, poor hyigene, with primitive problem solving skills and an inordinate fascination/fear of fire...

Nearthandal man didn't evolve, he just married into my family.

Bruce Hayden said...

Interesting stuff. I admit that my time line was a bit off - doing so from memory has its costs.

Another theory though - apparently Neanderthals were pure carnivores, whereas our ancestors were more hunter/gatherers (pre agriculture). Pure carnivore allowed Neanderthals to survive during the last Ice Age in places where our ancestors could not. But as the ice receeded, our ancestors followed the recession.

The point though is that a hunter/gathering species would possibly be able to maintain a higher population density than a purely carnivorous species. And that population density is what allowed our ancestors to overcome the bigger and stronger Neanderthals.

Bruce Hayden said...

I also found interesting that some scientists are now suggesting that there was interbreeding between Neanderthals and our ancestors. Last time I read anything on this, the convention wisdom seemed to have been that an Asiatic cousin had bred back in, but the Neaderthals had not.

alphie said...

Maybe it was the bloodthirsty females that did in the poor ol' Neanderthals?

How did they know when to stop the killin' when there was nobody around to point out the downside?

Smitty Werbenmanjensen said...

Is any of this cognitively less advanced than suggesting that Jose Padilla could have blinked messages in code to his fellow terrorists?

Inquiring minds want to know.

CB said...

I mean, how else do you explain the Finnish "rock" group Lordi?

Easy.

Plus, I don't care what people say about Neanderthals, as long as they don't pronouce it "Neandertall." For some reason that annoys me to no end.

Icepick said...

From the Jophn Hawkes post that Anthony linked to:

But first, let me just say this: ten years ago, we were arguing about whether Neandertals could hunt at all, or whether instead they were ineffective scavengers depending on carnivore handouts.

I suppose those days must be behind us, because now we read Neandertals were such committed big game hunters that they needed their females and kids to hunt along with them, which fatally compromised their ability to find and exploit small animals and plant foods.
(emphasis in the original)

In other words, our knowledge is advancing quickly on this front, and what we "know" today will likely be wrong tomorrow. (Also, there are some efforts underway to create genomes of Neandertals.)

More on Hawkes: He's a currently Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University
of Wisconsin—Madison. He's not just some random internet guy.

CB, dropping the 'h' is actually correct, although I rarely spell it correctly. But just sayin'.

bearbee said...

and had larger brains than we do. Presumably those brains were used for something.

It is interesting you mention brain size. A recent Nova special on the evolution of dogs from its wolf ancestry indicated that the wolf brain is much larger than that of the dog. Unlike the modern dog which looks cute and await the sound of a can opener, the wolf needs to strategize, coordinate and pack-hunt to survive.

Pogo said...

I think the larger Neanderthal brain size was needed in order to find a mate that was anything other than a Neanderthal.

VW: auphua
what Neanderthals think each other looks like

Mike said...

Why did Neanderthals die out?

"You can't fix stupid."

Mike said...

Ann said:" It's funny that we feel that it's wrong to disrespect the Neanderthal. But I have that feeling!"

Daryl Herbert asked: "If at best they could be shown to have a bit more intelligence than a typical retarded person, should we bestow upon them as much respect as we bestow upon the retarded among us...?"

A currently living, or "recently" deceased retarded person; full respect, of course. A dumber than us hominid who died out 30,000 years ago? No respect required.

It's like the dead deer. Dead one hour? It's an animal. Dead 30,000 years? Not so much.

AllenS said...

Since there was no place to go shopping, they probably hung around the cave and did a new thing called gossip.

Gerry said...

"It's funny that we feel that it's wrong to disrespect the Neanderthal. But I have that feeling!"

So easy a caveman could do it...

athenius said...

When we as a species disappear, will the cause be the acid sea or something else? And will we appear stupid to whatever survives us? Will they like our iPod music? Will our bones show that they supported obese flesh?

Cedarford said...

I have read some interesting things are coming out of the DNA studies of Cro-Magnon (us) and Neanderthal species.
Snippets of Neanderthal DNA appear to indicate that Neanderthal was a much more primitive species that split off the evolutionary line that led to homo sapiens a half million years earlier.

Icepick mentions the theory that Neanderthal alleles could have crossed into Cro Magnon and given us an evolutionary boost, but the DNA review suggests man and Neanderthal were very dissimilar species, far more so than people thought just a few years ago - and man is not inclined to mate with chimps or gorillas....Also, most of the human wave out of Africa to Asia and those remaining in Africa obviously missed the opportunity to bag a Neanderthal mate yet benefited from whatever evolutionary leap in cognition and creativity that happened 35-45,000 years ago. Which seems to indicate that Neanderthal had nothing to do with it. We also have the archeological evidence that wherever modern man and Neaderthal met, Neanderthal was wiped out. No sign of co-existence. Similar fates appear to have been meted out to other remnant hominid populations (Java Man, homo florensis, homo habilis in China, SE Asia, India)

Daryl Herbert For one thing, if they were around today, crimes against them should probably be considered on par with crimes against humans.

But they aren't. Homo sapiens appears to have decided on genocide, along with mass extinctions of Megafauna as our evolutionary strategy. Just as today we are starting to comprehend - despite PC-denial -that Western Civ, caucasions could be wiped out by a faster-breeding civilization or race.

That the women back at the cave conversing and chit-chatting could be true of homo sapiens, and explain some advantage and leap in cognition...But not Neanderthal. No similar leap in creativity or cognition was evident in Neanderthal excavations. One from 30,000 years ago pretty much had the same stone tools as one 70,000 years old.
But the gals back at the cave chit-chatting would have had to do something that advantaged Cro Magnon beyond just being the Oprah Winfrey get together of their era...And it appears from study by paleontologists and art experts that the cave paintings, sculpture are done by men, not women...and right or wrong, the present consensus is Cro-Magnon had a division of labor similar to primitive tribes studied in modern times. 1. Men were the Shamans. 2. Women did not hunt dangerous animals or fight in battles with over hunting lands..too dangerous and high child mortality and short, brutal lives overall meant the women were best utilized as breeders and gatherers.

Meade said...

"Will they like our iPod music?"

You mean our fossil records?

Meade said...

Cederford has a point which leads one to wonder if perhaps it wasn't anything more than simple female greed that did in the Neanderthals.

Not content with mere breeding, gathering, and doing ALL the tedious cave-keeping, Neanderthal females, with their grandiose crania and delusional sense of lingual entitlement, decided anything males could do, they could do better. Besides, if those big dumb stocky 5'5" clods weren't cognizant enough to know that it's the little blue bag from Tiffany & Co. which triggers the desire for copulation, well dammit, they'd just have to grit their molars, tip their spears with their own stones, and go out and charge it.

The girls began successfully chucking their own spears, the guys became seemingly unnecessary, disappearing (along with their seminal fluids) to the golf links, and the rest... is prehistory.

Yvan Roy said...

First, I just wanted to point out numbers I've seen on the DNA similarity between us and chimps(96%), and us and Neandertals(99.5%). Seems to me cross breeding, if genetically possible, would not have been as odd as mating with a modern ape and a human. Now silly jokes aside, there is a lot of evidence for extremely creative "mate" selection when in desperate need. Like moose courting cows and so on!

Also, the idea of females aggresively hunting big game is not so remote. Female wolves do it all the time, so do lionesses. They even do most of the hunting, the males just bully them aside for a meal, or even scare off other local predators and snatch their catch.

As for Neandertals, I don't know if these comparissons apply, I haven't really reached my own conclusion.

ModNewt said...

I'm not sure I understand why the focus has to be on whether Neanderthals were stupid. Certainly that may have been an element of why, but tons of animals survived that were/are "dumber" than us, right? Seems to me they had an adaptation problem more than an intelligence problem.

Shoot, if they were so much tougher and better adapted than us when it came to cold climates, the warming of the earth shouldn't have knocked them off. Head North young man.

chickenlittle said...

easy said: "I don't care what people say about Neanderthals, as long as they don't pronouce it 'Neandertall.' For some reason that annoys me to no end."

you Neanderthal-I suppose you pronounce Angela Merkel with a soft "g" too!

Mike Rentner said...

ModNewt took my point.

We're a lot smarter than monkeys and they're still around. We're smarter than dogs and cats, and they're still here too. So are lions. I don't see any of them doing calculus.

Being smart is what allowed us to do calculus and go to the moon, and probably allowed us to dominate the world (although that may not require intelligence either). There is no evidence that being smart is the only thing that allows a species to survive.

Madeline said...

Did you actually read the paper and the comments? I do not think it means what you think it means.

Also note a couple things: there is no evidence that needles, for instance, were used by females. And - Neanderthals existed a lot longer than we have.

K T Cat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
K T Cat said...

The Neanderthals died out because they did not allow cats to domesticate them.

jaed said...

It's funny that we feel that it's wrong to disrespect the Neanderthal. But I have that feeling!

For some reason that reminds me of the "Think. Respect" campaign.

Think. Respect the Neanderthal.

Mitch said...

I wonder also if we might have passed diseases to them. We know what happened when isolated modern humans came in contact with the rest of the world. Neanderthals may have been a different subspecies, but that's a much smaller gap to negotiate than the one between humans and other species (birds and pigs: influenza; cattle: smallpox and TB; apes: AIDS and Ebola; rats: plague).

Pogo said...

The Neanderthals, being prescient, saw the human race and the potential for Mao, K-Fed, and Katie Couric, and committed suicide en masse.

Paddy O. said...

Clearly, the Neanderthals were supporters of gay marriage, thus leading to the breakdown of social structures in the society. The growing gay families required the abolishment of all gender roles.

Eventually, because of societal pressure, gay marriages became the standard, everyone became gay, and thus no Neanderthal babies were born. Humano-fascists began to populate formerly Neanderthal regions, abolishing Neanderthal culture with their breeder mentality.

Either that or Neanderthals had the same problem as Ents.

Revenant said...

Seems to me they had an adaptation problem more than an intelligence problem

An intelligence problem *is* an adaption problem, when you're competing with other intelligent organisms for limited resources. Especially since intelligence was, so far as we can tell, the primary survival "tactic" of our ancestors as well as Neanderthals.

TallDave said...

Jared Diamond has singled our the perfection of the human voicebox, and the logic there is fairly compelling. Then as now, innovation does you little good without salesmanship.

Icepick said...

Cederford wrote: [T]he DNA review suggests man and Neanderthal were very dissimilar species, far more so than people thought just a few years ago - and man is not inclined to mate with chimps or gorillas....

First, comparing Neandertals to chimps and gorillas is silly. The evolutionary path that led to Chimps and Gorillas diverged much farther back in the mists of time than the divergence that led to us and to Neandertals.

Second, the genetic research is really just beginning, so drawing deep conclusions is unwarranted at this time, although speculation is fun. I wouldn't put too much stock in how primitive H. N.'s were.

Third, the genetic research does seem to indicate that its quite possible that H. Sapiens picked up some genes along the way from one or more archaic Homo populations. (See this.) This doesn't mean that interbreeding occured with H Neandertals, but it sure as hell leaves it open as a possibility. Read Hawkes' Introgression and microcephalin FAQ for how this could occur. Also. the concept of 'species' is more nebulous than most people realize.

From Hawkes' FAQ:

What is introgression?

Introgression is the transfer of alleles across species or subspecies boundaries. In other words, it describes gene flow between populations that are partially isolated. For archaic humans, there is no test of the strength or permeability of boundaries between populations; it is common to use the term "introgression" to describe gene flow in such situations, even if such gene flow is fairly common.

The paper by Evans and colleagues describes a scenario of adaptive introgression. In such cases, an allele with a selective advantage moves from one population to another.
(emphasis added)

Incidentally, in the abstract linked above, the gene in question seemed to diverge from the line that led to us 1.1 million years ago ... and was only reintroduced about 37,000 years ago. Even if Neandertals were rather primitive, that in and of itself isn't enough to rule them out as a candidate 'donor' for the gene in question.

Also from Hawkes FAQ:

But I thought that "species" means "no interbreeding!"
Get with the times, man! Mammal species just don't establish reproductive barriers very quickly. Comparing mammals, postzygotic isolating mechanisms take between 2 and 10 million years to evolve. No primate species pairs have evolved postzygotic isolation on the timescale represented by the evolution of Homo. When archaic and modern humans were in contact, they certainly interbred.

TinkersCuss said...

Neanderthals did not die out. Their genetic legacy is incorporated in many of us - mostly those of European descent. There is some recent evidence to this effect.

ModNewt said...

An intelligence problem *is* an adaption problem.

Every rose is a flower, but not every flower is a rose. As I said before, intelligence may have been an element of why they failed. However, they could have adapted in other ways unrelated to intelligence. Chameleons aren't smarter than us, but they can change colors better than humans and hide in the trees from predators.

Xenofere said...

There is some evidence that our own species Homo Sapiens underwent a transformation around 50,000 years ago, when they (relatively) suddenly developed a more complex culture, an interest in art, elaborate burials, etc. All of these things point to the development of a more conceptual mode of thinking, probably the result of the development of the first real languages.

This allowed Homo Sapiens to communicate (and therefore organize) more effectively, and possibly accumulate and transfer knowledge to others in their group and to succeeding generations. If so, this would have been a significant survival advantage.

For lack of a better theory, it seems likely to me that the Neanderthals were simply driven to extinction through competition for resources. It seems a more likely scenario to me than pitched battles between Sapiens and Neanderthalis. Surely, even if such battles did occur, they were a localized event and could not be responsible for wiping out Neanderthals over millions of square miles of territory, over tens of thousands of years.

Kirby Olson said...

The Beat poet Gregory Corso has a pretty good poem "In Praise of Neanderthal Man" written in the 1970s.

It's three pages in length but the last stanza runs,

Know this about that hoary brutish
bow-legg'd miserable toiler
...
you who claim his seed died with him
nor ever did associate (much less copulate)
with such heir as Cro-Mag, son of bear
-- to you I say Neanderthal
himself knew to sing
inventor of the churinga
(first musical instrument)
able to make the air ring
...
-- so again unto you I say O thou bigot anthropology
deem not Sir Neanderthal a stupid thing
all milk and no cream
in his time
throughout the world
he was philosoph supreme

from Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit (New Directions 1981)
pp. 44-45

DRJ said...

It sounds to me like Neanderthals weren't efficient. They committed to a food source - big game hunting - that was inherently dangerous and difficult. It took everyone in the group to accomplish. They could have looked for easier ways, like plant gathering and scavenging, but for whatever reason they didn't.

Ann Althouse said...

The idea that other species are stupid is ridiculous. They have brains adapted to their lives. They are not the equivalent of the mentally retarded. It's impossible to imagine how they perceive the world and think. The image of the Neanderthals as shambling around and making stupid mistakes has more to do with our own vanity than how they really were, I suspect.

Al Maviva said...

I think anthropologists are looking for the wrong things - needles, thread, cooking pots...

What they should be looking for is broken heels off PaleoPrada shoes, empty flint lipstick containers, and massive piles of receipts carved in stone.

That's right. I know what Neanderthal women did all day... shopping. Loads of it. Why do you think Neanderthal society had no money? Because it was spent almost before it was made.

Al
- Resident Cro-mag...

John B. Chilton said...

I will ditto that Ann. We don't have to conclude other species or races are stupid.

Institutions can simply be slow to change, and in some societies slower to change than in others.

Slowness of local institutions/cultures to adapt could have implications in Iraq, and the globalization tensions in general.

Anonymous said...

talldave brings up voiceboxes & salesmanship -- although geneticists are loath to say it, being pussyfooters, introgression arose when human males hit on neanderthal females -- it's easy to see why human males were able to score: they had better salesmanship, despite being smaller, than neanderthal males -- think of jockeys who marry tall blondes: they're shorter than other males but they know how to come down the home stretch -- now we need to look at what human males saw in neanderthal females, who never made the grade as fashion models in that era: the only solution is that neanderthal females had tighter vaginas, another fact that geneticists will never admit

John(classic) said...

"The usual evidence of division of labor by sex -- needles, small animal remains, grinding stones -- is missing,"


If we find a bone needle, some grinding stones, and a dead rat we conclude that there was division of labor by sex?

Boy, are anthropologists sexist.

Mike Mangum said...

[quote]It is interesting you mention brain size. A recent Nova special on the evolution of dogs from its wolf ancestry indicated that the wolf brain is much larger than that of the dog. Unlike the modern dog which looks cute and await the sound of a can opener, the wolf needs to strategize, coordinate and pack-hunt to survive.[/quote]

Early human brains apparently shrank concomitantly with the reduction in brain size of dogs during the domestication process. We didn't just domesticate dogs, they also domesticated us. The theory is that each species shed parts of the brain in which there was the most unneeded overlap of skills. With the help of domesticated dogs, we didn't need to have as strong of a sense of smell (for example) because it was provided by our new furry friends. Domesticated dogs didn't need the ability for some of the higher brain functions, like advanced planning of a hunt, because we provided that for them.

Brain mass is the most calorie hungry part of the body, by far. If you don't actually gain any benefit from having more brain mass, it is actually a significant evolutionary detriment.

Balfegor said...

But I thought that "species" means "no interbreeding!"
Get with the times, man! Mammal species just don't establish reproductive barriers very quickly. Comparing mammals, postzygotic isolating mechanisms take between 2 and 10 million years to evolve. No primate species pairs have evolved postzygotic isolation on the timescale represented by the evolution of Homo. When archaic and modern humans were in contact, they certainly interbred.


Sort of tangential to this point -- how is it that donkeys and horses can interbreed (to produce mules)? They don't even have the same number of chromosomes. And isn't there some other horse-something hybrid (from the steppe or something) that is actually fertile?

chickenlittle said...

John B. Chilton said:

"Slowness of local institutions/cultures to adapt could have implications in Iraq, and the globalization tensions in general."

yes, who but is adapting to whom?

MadisonMan said...

Neanderthals are going to be thought of as stupid until the English Language evolves and changes the meaning of neanderthal. If ornithologists discovered that 5000 years ago Eastern bluebirds (Sialis sialis) were yellow, would they change their name to something other than Bluebird? (Incidentally -- how come a side effect of Cialis is blue vision, and Sialis sialis is the blue bird? Coincidence?).

Maybe anthropologists should just rename Neanderthals to reflect their possibly enhanced brainpower. Homo Hunterallis?

Anonymous said...

well, if neanderthal women hunted, their bones would show the healed fractures that most of the male bones show.
And, of course, it's hard to hunt with a kid inside or on one's back...

Anthony said...

Well, I linked to this and came up with a pretty nifty hook, if I do say so myself.

But you know, this whole division-of-labor thing has been haunting archaeologists forever. And it's led to some pretty off the wall hypotheses. One major problem is that much of archaeology is anthropology-driven, and anthropologists only study modern peoples, be they first-world suburbanites or fourth world hunter-gatherers. The classic studies of modern H-G's has, unfortunately, colored much of how we view the past. The problem is that we have assumed (mostly, there has been criticism of this) that modern H-G's are somehow ancient holdovers from the past. That is, that we can use modern H-G's as a model of how prehistoric H-G societies lived. This is where the whole "Man the Hunter, Woman the Gatherer" hypothesis came from. But that assumes that no change has occurred for thousands of years and that these modern groups really do represent ancient people that time forgot. But they're not; they are modern societies existing in a contemporary setting, albeit with simpler technologies and social structures.

There are biological constraints, of course, that may suggest that women played different roles regardless of where/when said society existed. Childbearing and nursing obviously impact the kinds of activities women can participate in. Demonstrating what those activities are is another matter entirely, when the rocks and bones and sticks and stones of the archaeological record aren't generally stamped with the gender that made and/or used them and one extends the ethnographic present back at one's peril.

Shutting up with the archaeological theory now.

Anthony said...
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Revenant said...

As I said before, intelligence may have been an element of why they failed. However, they could have adapted in other ways unrelated to intelligence.

The fact that no large animal species on Earth has managed to come up with a successful strategy to compete with human intelligence suggests that either (a) there is no such strategy available to large animals or (b) it takes such a long time to develop that it wouldn't have been possible for Neanderthals to manage it in the available time frame.

The only species that are (arguably) more successful than humans are the ones that opt for the "be really tiny and have a bazaillion kids" strategy, like microbes, cockroaches, and mice. It would take tens of millions of years for a hominid to evolve such a strategy -- and it probably wouldn't even be possible, given how many highly-evolved organisms have already laid claim to that niche.

Revenant said...

The idea that other species are stupid is ridiculous. They have brains adapted to their lives.

Sure, but we usually reserve the terms "smart" and "stupid" for reasoning ability, not brain function in general. That's why we don't say "you're so smart!" when we see an impressive feat of, say, juggling.

bearbee said...

And isn't there some other horse-something hybrid (from the steppe or something) that is actually fertile?

I don't know about the 'horse-something hybrid' but there is the tigon - hybrid of a male tiger and a lioness and the liger - hybrid between a male lion and a female tiger.

Apparently females of both hybrids are fertile.

Revenant said...

the liger - hybrid between a male lion and a female tiger.

That's pretty much my favorite animal.

Icepick said...

MM, Homo primigenius was an alternate name for Neandertals that was proposed at the time they were classified.

MadisonMan said...

Homo primigenius -- there ya go! Who would ever say Primigeniuses were stupid! Change the name.

Anonymous said...

Donkeys (62 chromosomes) and horses (64 chromosomes) are close enough to mate, but their offspring (mules) have 63 chromosomes, which doesn't divide evenly, so they're all infertile.

I really don't know if that means that if, say, a 60-chromosome animal mated with a 64-chromosome animal, their 62-chromosome offspring would be fertile due to the even number.

athenius said...

Meade, I suspect some day advanced beings CAN be listening to our iPod music ('fossilized', OK). We just don't know how they'll do it. Homo sapiens sure didn't image us reconstructing their smart lives and swapping quips about Neanderthals via cyberspace.

Jennifer said...

Does this mean Clan of the Cave Bear isn't definitive?

Rowena Hullfire said...

My hypothesis on H. sapiens:
World Domination Through Female Orgasm.
It takes a learning curve to figure out female orgasm.
The evolutionary-biological purpose of female orgasm is to increase the chance of conception.
Hence, if H. sapiens were smarter than Neanderthals, then sapiens would have had better reproductive success.
Neanderthal chicks would have sought out sapiens dudes because they got "skills."
Sapiens dudes would do Neanderthal chicks because hey, they're all the same with a bag over their heads.
The fermented beverages hypothesis may tie in here.
Some things never change.
LOL

Sometime I will explain my hypothesis of World Peace Through Female Orgasm.

Anonymous said...

What did Neanderthal women do all day?

They worked on inventing the toilet seat.

Ba-dum, chshsh!

Cedarford said...

TinkersCuss said...
Neanderthals did not die out. Their genetic legacy is incorporated in many of us - mostly those of European descent. There is some recent evidence to this effect.


There is no evidence of that past some anthropologist's theory. Preliminary DNA work suggests that Neanderthal were very different from us. Also, the caucasian race is now known to have originated on the Steppes in what is present day Turmenistan, migrating into Europe some 10,000 years later.

xenophere - it seems likely to me that the Neanderthals were simply driven to extinction through competition for resources. It seems a more likely scenario to me than pitched battles between Sapiens and Neanderthalis. Surely, even if such battles did occur, they were a localized event and could not be responsible for wiping out Neanderthals over millions of square miles of territory, over tens of thousands of years.

When primitive man competed for scarce resources - big game, water holes..his toleration was non-existent of rivals. Historical record shows the Bantu, Han Chinese, Japanese, Athabascans pushed out or killed their rivals from all hunting lands, agricultural lands they wanted. The record shows where Neanderthals occupied caves, their record ceases upon arrival of modern man in the area. From the ME Westward to the last bastion in Iberia, Neanderthal was exterminated in a wave by modern man. The archaeological record shows no coexistence. We also wiped out the cave bear, cave lion, various carnivorous marsupials in prehistoric times..they ate your food, they threatened your kind, or disrupted the game hunt...you killed them. You encounter a rival species of man, they pretty likely got the same treatment.

The idea that other species are stupid is ridiculous. They have brains adapted to their lives.

The sloth, oyster, sponge, bison, baboon all have "brains" of varying decrees adopted to their lives. All are in fact, stupid....however. Chimps may be well-adapted to their environment...but they are still stupider on average than all humans but those with mental development disorders.

Shaky Barnes said...

I bet the Neanderthals were all roasted like hot dogs by the global warming our ancestors caused.

Yvan Roy said...

I just had to point out, Neandertal's calorie collecting aproach was very efficient, if they all hunted. Top predators expend less energy getting their food in the form of meat than all the herbivores do, munching day in, day out. Why would animals (or humans) evolve towards carnivoricity if it wasn't worth it?

Eating veggies is the -in-efficient approach. It may be the more reliable approach, but is sure isn't efficient.

I on the other hand, gain weight even though I only eat carrot sticks. ;)

amba said...

Tsk, we're such Homo sapiensists.

vw: ylypdcd

(why el why peedee seedee)

Wrymouth said...

"Bertha Butt"

... and thank YOU, Chickenlittle, for bringing back THAT painful memory from my junior high school days... would you like to give me a papercut and rub a little lemon juice into it also?

John B. Chilton said...

CB,

I heard on NPR the other day that the place Neanderthal is pronounced Neandertall, and the species is pronounced Neaderthall.

Some where along the way people heard the place name's pronunciation and inferred it also applied to the species. (At least that's the rumor I'm starting.}

Who makes these pronunciation rules anyway?

Shanna said...

I heard on NPR the other day that the place Neanderthal is pronounced Neandertall, and the species is pronounced Neaderthall.

This makes sense.

I saw something on the History channel a few months ago that tried to push the Neandertall pronunciation, I'm guessing on the theory that however the locals pronounce it is correct.

chickenlittle said...
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chickenlittle said...

Perhaps one of the UW's fine German language professors can weigh in as to why the "th" spelling disappeared in that language sometime ago. Yet the pronounciation had always been a hard "t" sound for much longer.

If the Neander river flowed through an English speaking country, we might all refer to the brutes as "Neanderdales"

That's even got a flintstonian ring to it or?

iAnansi said...

Two interesting things I have recently read... I'm curious about the validity and strength of research..

Neanderthals may have lacked the physical structure to throw overhand, no? And cro magnon could rotate his shoulder cuff and throw. For things like spearing and knocking birds out of trees, this is a big deal.

I also stumbled upon research that suggests the only reason Neanderthals were less cognitive than we is because they had large territories, small family units and rarely came together in larger groups. Humans had more contact with each other and could spread new ideas and technology faster. When they first encountered humans, it was suggested that they also, around the same time, had a creative spike and started immitating us by making more sophisticated tools and jewelery. Perhaps it wasn't less brain power but less social skills?

I would think that the division of labour in humans also caused more sexual dimorphism. Females got smaller and males got bigger because I have also read research that suggests early Cro Magnon had less sexual dimorphism.

Anyway... very cool article.