In the past, some 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 adapt to different environments.
But in an extensive review of recent Neanderthal research, CU-Boulder researcher Paola Villa and co-author Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, make the case that the available evidence does not support the opinion that Neanderthals were less advanced than anatomically modern humans. Their paper was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
“The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there,” said Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. “What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true.”
What? Is the world so far forsaking Darwin that we have entirely forgotten why the Neanderthals were originally thought to be inferior? As noted here and elsewhere earlier,
Paleontologists have long hungered for a species halfway between human and ape, to cast in the world’s face as irrefutable evidence for mud at work. Indeed, a little publicized assumption of Darwin’s theory was that future humans would eventually separate into different species:
The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.
Darwin didn’t think this out of bad will or bigotry; it is merely the logic of a theory that encompasses all of life. The human future took very different turns, it seems, but the quest for a non-human past survived them. Here are a few things we think we know: More.
See also: The search for our earliest ancestors: signals in the noise
The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (human evolution)