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Friday, July 29, 2011

Did Humans Crowd out Neanderthals?


Published July 29, 2011 but updated August 24th, 2011
| Associated Press (with J and L commentary)
Were the Neanderthals simply crowded out by ancestors of modern humans?

That is the theory of a pair of British researchers, who say early modern humans outnumbered Neanderthals by 10-to-1 in a region of southwestern France they studied.

Scientists long have debated the circumstances in which modern people replaced Neanderthals across Europe about 40,000 years ago. Leading researchers in the field challenged the research methods in the new study and added that the idea of a larger population prevailing is not new.

Other theories have focused on climate change, differences in Neanderthals' ability to think and other possibilities.

In the report, in Friday's edition of the journal Science, Paul Mellars and Jennifer C. French of England's Cambridge University contend that "numerical supremacy alone may have been a critical factor" in human dominance.

They conducted a statistical analysis of archaeological finds in France's Perigord region, and concluded that stone tools and animal food remains showing evidence of modern humans indicate a much larger population than of Neanderthals in the region. That, they said, would have undermined the ability of the Neanderthals to compete for food and other necessities.

Paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, commented that he had argued two years ago that evidence that early humans used more resources and engaged in more intensive labor probably indicated a larger population density.

In addition, Trinkaus challenged the data in the new report, commenting that the idea of using the number of human gathering sites and their size, tool counts, and other pieces of evidence "pooled together over millennia to estimate relative population sizes was long ago rejected by archaeologists."

Trinkaus said the number of human sites has little, if anything, to do with how many people were around. "For example, a highly mobile group of hunter-gatherers will leave vastly fewer, if any, recognizable sites than one that stayed put for major periods of the year and accumulated trash in one place," he said.

Several experts agreed the conclusion of the paper was not new.
Christopher Ramsey of the School of Archaeology at England's University of Oxford said it provided "more quantitative evidence for what many already thought to be the case: that is that modern humans simply replaced Neanderthals by gaining higher population densities."
And Joao Zilhao, a research professor at the University of Barcelona, argued that the methods used to estimate the population were outdated. He said modern humans did not simply replace Neanderthals anyway, "as the overwhelming genetic and paleontological evidence shows what happened was assimilation, not replacement."
  
It is the considered and well-researched opinions of J and L Research and Exploration that Neanderthals did indeed assimilate. At one point, researchers considered that modern humans had managed through disease, or superior weaponry, to bring the species to the brink of extinction, yet, closer examination of current archaeological evidence would point to a reality where we cohabitated and perhaps interbred.

Update - 8/24/2011

Upon a request from "Kate," one of our followers, we did a little further research on her comments reference how did the Neanderthals become extinct and came up with three possible explanations.
1. Could Neanderthals and modern humans breed thus ending the distinctive appearance of the Neanderthals? DNA samples do not show that homo sapiens contain any DNA in our biological make-up that would suggest this as an alternative though it must be remembered only five to seven bone fragments from Neanderthals have been found containing enough material to do a DNA match. A very tiny sample for this sort of research since Neanderthals roamed over a period of 200,000 years. Perhaps in the near future there will be enough evidence for serious research into this concept of breeding. Of course, another theory is both species interbred but much like horses and donkeys their offspring would not be fertile and thus not able to reproduce.
2. Much like when Europeans first came to the  new world they carried certain diseases the natives had no immunity to and thus wiped out entire villages. Modern humans who actually did co-exist with Neanderthals for roughly 50,000 years may have inadvertently exposed these more primitive (though the Neanderthals lasted longer than present humans have so far) people to a biological nightmare thus wiping out the already dwindling number of Neanderthals.
3. A change of climate may have produce the catalyst needed to allow the Neanderthals to go extinct. A new ice age was taking over Europe and because of the shorter legs and broader chests compared to the more wiry modern humans the Neanderthals could not adapt to the changing weather patterns. With more snow covering their 'hunting' forests the Neanderthals could not compete and possibly their hunting grounds would no longer support them.

Any of the three above concepts could be true and a shame for one of our closest ancestors but one thing we, at J and L, have not found is that modern humans intentionally hunted the Neanderthals to extinction.

1 comment:

  1. I think "overcrowding" is a nice way to put what was really "outcompeting". Homo-sapiens were more agile hunters and generally more capable of controlling their environment than their genetic cousins, and thus were more successful at breeding and dominating the food sources in the area. The smartest thing the Neanderthal did was cozy up to his exceptional competitor! I enjoyed this post, and I'd be interested to see a followup on how this concept of humans overcrowding Neanderthals leading to their eventual demise is similar to the earth's current phenomenon of humans outcompeting every other creature as well (the exceptions being mosquitos and cockroaches, they seem to have maintained the upper hand). Enjoyed the article!

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