Neanderthals were not inferior, says CU-Boulder study

April 30, 2014

April 30, 2014                                               Paola Villa

          The widely held notion that Neanderthals, a species of humans closely related to modern man, were dimwitted and that their lack of intelligence allowed them to be driven to extinction by the much brighter ancestors of modern humans is not supported by scientific evidence, according to a new study by researcher Paola Villa, curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

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Neanderthals were not inferior, says CU-Boulder study

April 30, 2014                                               Paola Villa

 

The widely held notion that Neanderthals, a species of humans closely related to modern man, were dimwitted and that their lack of intelligence allowed them to be driven to extinction by the much brighter ancestors of modern humans is not supported by scientific evidence, according to a new study by researcher Paola Villa, curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

CUT 1 “There was a lot of recent data that was proving, or supporting the idea, that Neanderthals were not inferior to early modern humans that invaded Europe and supplanted them.” (:14)

          Neanderthals thrived in Europe and Asia between about 350,000 and 40,000 years ago. They disappeared after our ancestors, a group referred to as “anatomically modern humans,” crossed into Europe from Africa.

          For decades researchers have tried to explain the demise of the Neanderthals by suggesting that the newcomers were superior to Neanderthals in key ways, including their ability to hunt, communicate, innovate and even adapt to different environments.

CUT 2 “We looked at all the different hypotheses that showed that Neanderthals were not as good as early modern humans, that they were not as good hunters or that they were not capable of adapting better to different environments and that they had a limited diet -- they were not capable of having a broad diet such as catching small fast game like birds or rabbits.” (:30)

          But after reviewing hundreds and hundreds of studies with co-author Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, the duo discovered evidence that counter those beliefs and show that Neanderthals acquired knowledge to survive long before they encountered early modern Humans.

CUT 3 “All this stuff that was now there showing that at different sites that they were capturing birds, they were capturing rabbits and they were eating plants. And this was at a time, which was older than the time of arrival of the early modern humans in Europe. (:18) In other words, they did not learn it from them. These behaviors were already present before.” (:25)

          Villa says the latest studies involving Neanderthal DNA were invaluable in helping them come to their conclusions.

CUT 4 “Very recently there have been all these genetic papers on the interbreeding between the Neanderthals and early modern Humans which suggests clearly some contact, (:12) but also the evidence suggests that it’s not just the Neanderthals that were learning from the early modern Humans in Europe but that there was some transfer, also, from Neanderthals to early modern Humans.” (:25)

          Villa believes one reason researchers miscalculated Neanderthals thinking abilities is that they were comparing Neanderthals, who lived in in the Middle Paleolithic period, to modern humans living during the more recent Upper Paleolithic period, when leaps in technology were being made.

 

-CU-

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