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Neanderthals didn’t die out because modern hunting weapons were better?

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Innovative tech may not have destroyed Neanderthals/Kovalenko Inna, Fotolia

This month, the Neanderthals died out because they couldn’t harness fire and last month wolves helped current humans kill off Neanderthals (as noted at the time, these theses are vulnerable to the first Neanderthal burial that turns up a wolfhound skeleton and/or the remains of fires. Anyway, there is a cottage industry of speculations as to why the Neanderthals “died out,” when the genetic evidence points to them simply being submerged in the general human population and losing a separate identity.

That happens to distinctive groups today.

Okay, the month isn’t even up yet but here at ScienceDaily we find a contrarian thesis: Modern humans did not bring about the demise of the Neanderthals due to superior weapons:

There has always been a big question around the demise of the Neanderthals — why did they disappear when humans survived? We have a similar anatomy, so researchers traditionally thought there must have been differences in the way Neanderthals and humans behaved. The new study suggests that humans moved from west Asia to Europe without a big change in their behavior.

The researchers studied stone tools that were used by people in the Early Ahmarian culture and the Protoaurignacian culture, living in south and west Europe and west Asia around 40,000 years ago. They used small stone points as tips for hunting weapons like throwing spears. Researchers previously considered these to be a significant innovation — one that helped the humans migrate from west Asia to Europe, where Neanderthals were living.

However, the new research reveals a timeline that doesn’t support this theory. If the innovation had led to the migration, evidence would show the stone points moving in the same direction as the humans. But at closer inspection, the researchers showed the possibility that the stone points appeared in Europe 3,000 years earlier than in the Levant, a historical area in west Asia. Innovation in hunting weapons can be necessary, but it’s not always associated with migration — populations can spread without technological innovations.

Indeed. For all we know, the incoming groups learned what they knew about hunting in temperate and boreal forests from Neanderthals, just as Europeans learned how to survive in North America from the aboriginal peoples.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper re-examines lithic technological variability of the Early Ahmarian, one of the early Upper Palaeolithic cultural entities in the Levant, which has often been regarded as a precursor of the Protoaurignacian (the early Upper Palaeolithic in Europe) in arguments for the occurrence of a cultural spread in association with the dispersal of Homo sapiens from the Levant to Europe. Using quantitative data on several lithic techno-typological attributes, we demonstrate that there is a significant degree of variability in the Early Ahmarian between the northern and southern Levant, as previously pointed out by several researchers. In addition, we suggest that the technology similar to the southern Early Ahmarian also existed in the northern Levant, i.e., the Ksar Akil Phase 4 group (the KA 4 group), by introducing new Upper Palaeolithic assemblages from Wadi Kharar 16R, inland Syria. We then review currently available stratigraphic records and radiocarbon dates (including a new date from Wadi Kharar 16R), with special attention to their methodological background. As a result, we propose alternative chronological scenarios, including one that postulates that the southern Early Ahmarian and the KA 4 group appeared later than the northern Early Ahmarian with little or no overlap. On the basis of the alternative scenarios of chronological/geographical patterns of the Early Ahmarian variability, we propose four possible relationships between the Protoaurignacian and the Early Ahmarian, including a new scenario that the appearance of the Protoaurignacian preceded those of similar technological entities in the Levant, i.e., the southern Early Ahmarian and the KA 4 group. If the last hypothesis is substantiated, it requires us to reconsider the model of a Levantine origin of the Protoaurignacian and its palaeoanthropological implications. (Open access) – Seiji Kadowaki, Takayuki Omori, Yoshihiro Nishiaki. Variability in Early Ahmarian lithic technology and its implications for the model of a Levantine origin of the Protoaurignacian. Journal of Human Evolution, 2015; 82: 67 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.02.017

See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents

and

A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?

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3 Replies to “Neanderthals didn’t die out because modern hunting weapons were better?

  1. 1
    tjguy says:

    Well, science is self correcting and correcting previous mistakes is progress, right?

    This is a good example of the problems with and trustworthiness of untestable hypotheses.

    This is a game of speculation, not science!

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    podcast: Do Humans Share A Common Ancestry With Neanderthals? – Casey Luskin – May 2015
    Casey Luskin tackles another neo-Darwinian assertion made by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins in The Language of Science and Faith. In their book, Giberson and Collins capitalize on the popular notion of Neanderthals as brutish, non-human, cavemen like beasts in order to bolster their claims about common ancestry. Is this view of Neanderthals accurate?
    http://www.discovery.org/multi.....#more-8801

  3. 3
    daveS says:

    BA77,

    You’ve probably covered this before, but in your view, what/who were the Neanderthals? Were they simply humans with souls and so forth, or maybe a completely separate human-like species, or something else?

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