There were just too many humans for Neanderthals to survive

Illustration for article titled There were just too many humans for Neanderthals to survive

The extinction of the Neanderthals remains a matter of intense debate. Were we smarter than them? More warlike? Or perhaps we simply sexed them into extinction? The real answer might have more to do with our quantity than our qualities.

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For about 300,000 years, Europe was pretty much the undisputed domain of the Neanderthals. About 60,000 years ago, modern humans entered the continent, and by 40,000 years ago, the Neanderthals were gone forever. It's difficult to figure out just what caused this extinction - and it's almost certain that multiple factors were in play - but Cambridge researchers now think they've hit upon the primary reason why Neanderthals died out: there simply weren't enough of them to compete.

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According to complex statistical analysis of the so-called "Perigord" region of southwestern France - which has the highest concentration of early human and Neanderthal sites in all of Europe - the earliest human immigrants to the continent instantly outnumbered the Neanderthals by a factor of 10 to 1. The basis for this conclusion is the massive uptick in the number of human sites, the fact that these sites were more densely populated than their Neanderthal counterparts - which we can tell from the far more pronounced presence of animal bones and stone tools - and the fact that these human sites extended over larger areas, indicating the formation of larger social groups.

With a built-in population advantage like that, human "victory" over Neanderthals could never have been in doubt. (I suppose the only things that could have stopped humans were exotic diseases - and humans solved that problem by breeding with Neanderthals.) Where Neanderthals had once had unchallenged domain over their hunting grounds and the resources needed to survive the cruel winters, they now could only stake an eleventh of a claim, and they were going up against interlopers who likely had superior technology and possibly had superior intellect, though both of those assertions remain controversial.

Professor Paul Mellars explains:

"In any event, it was clearly this range of new technological and behavioural innovations which allowed the modern human populations to invade and survive in much larger population numbers than those of the preceding Neanderthals across the whole of the European continent. Faced with this kind of competition, the Neanderthals seem to have retreated initially into more marginal and less attractive regions of the continent and eventually — within a space of at most a few thousand years — for their populations to have declined to extinction — perhaps accelerated further by sudden climatic deterioration across the continent around 40,000 years ago."

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We still have some work to do in establishing the finer causes of why humans supplanted Neanderthals in Europe, not to mention figuring out the long-term legacy of interaction between Neanderthals and humans. But this research probably does provide the major reason. After all, if you have two even vaguely evenly matched species and you give one of them a 10-to-1 numbers advantage, it's not hard to guess which of the two species will come out on top.

Via Science. Image via.

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DISCUSSION

Troublehalf
Troublehalf

The thing is, many people believe Neanderthals to be stupid, dumb brutes. But in fact, they had a large head, and therefore bigger brain that we did. They were also a lot bigger, 6-7ft was normal for men. They were big in muscle mass and were very strong in battle and work. They used Spears rather than anything else. They would charge animals, stab them full force with a spear (with such strength behind it, would go through the aninmal, get stuck and the Neanderthal would just have to hang on till the aninmal died) and use their big bulk to charge over the aninmal. Furthermore, when we came into contact with them and fought, it was pretty much even stevens on who would win.

The Neanderthals had strength and intellegence, but 'humans' had technology and numbers. The way humans won was by drawing the Neanderthals out of a wooded enviroment to clearings, or highground (in any location) they then would use javalins to attack from range. Often it would take more than one to kill a Neanderthal, but the humans had a great and very powerful weapon, the spear thrower (spear chucker) which basically when used increased the force, speed and overall power of a thrown javalin. This not only allowed humans to take out Neanderthals with one shot, but allowed them to take on bigger food sources and defend themselves from bears, wolves and lions (there were cave lions in the area, France where they lived).

Another reason humans survived is because humans were not afraid of merging with other tribes. They saw strength in numbers, allowed better protection from Neanderthal raids/attacks and animal attacks. It also allowed tribes, when they met, to exchange knowledge of the land, food sources and other threats/advantages. This meant tribes grew in experience much quicker, allowing them to gain an advantage over the Neanderthals. Neanderthals didn't really mix, they usually kept to 10-25 groups and didn't really move around like humans did. However they were very successful, they cared for injured and the young. Evidence has been found that shows a Neanderthal had his legs broken, beyound repair, and was looked after for 20 years. Even thou he had very little use as a male in the group he was still cared for. Which is nice to know.

So yes, humans survived because we mixed together with other tribes, believed in strength in numbers, had a system, which in todays liberal world, is seen as "sexist". That being, the men went out and hunted for food, women stayed behind and looked after children and the village. If the men failed to get meat, women were expected to have collected alternative sources, such as eggs, nuts, fruit and so on. But this system was a crude form of "Division of labour" which allowed humans to exploit the best aspects of the sexes. In Neanderthals tribe, both men and women hunted (they were both huge and powerful) but they survived just fine, but because they never joined alternative tribes, breeding and reproduction was a bit limited. Humans allowed others in, which made bigger tribes, which allowed more reproduction options and so on.

To prove how awesome the technology of humans was, is that the spear thrower was STILL being used by Native Indian tribes thousands of years later. Which shows how important advantage it was.

So yeah.... nice article. It proves that while humans might of had a disadvantaged in the genetic sense, they made up for it with inginunity and guile.

Please don't flame me if I got stuff wrong... forgotten a lot of this stuff :( So I might of got stuff wrong :(