Okay, you say, enough about Neanderthals. Just one more thing for now: From Andrew Lawler at Science:
A decade ago, when excavators claimed to have found stone tools on the Greek island of Crete dating back at least 130,000 years, other archaeologists were stunned—and skeptical. But since then, at that site and others, researchers have quietly built up a convincing case for Stone Age seafarers—and for the even more remarkable possibility that they were Neandertals, the extinct cousins of modern humans.
The finds strongly suggest that the urge to go to sea, and the cognitive and technological means to do so, predates modern humans, says Alan Simmons, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas who gave an overview of recent finds at a meeting here last week of the Society for American Archaeology. “The orthodoxy until pretty recently was that you don’t have seafarers until the early Bronze Age,” adds archaeologist John Cherry of Brown University, an initial skeptic. “Now we are talking about seafaring Neandertals. It’s a pretty stunning change.”
Scholars long thought that the capability to construct and victual a watercraft and then navigate it to a distant coast arrived only with advent of agriculture and animal domestication.
Quote of the day:
“We severely miscalculated,” admits Runnels, who excavated at the Crete site. If his colleagues are right, he says, “the seas were more permeable than we thought.” More.
Here’s a thought: The seas may or may not have been very permeable but the people were often pretty desperate:
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Tennyson
Skepticism is a good thing, taken in measured doses, but be cautious of skepticism that brushes aside the normal operations of human nature applied to the likely risks of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Seafaring could certainly occur to distressed, maybe starving Neanderthals. It’s not a complex idea, after all. Even if one does not have a specific destination, fat fish and edible seaweed wash up on shore, showing that there is fresh food in the ocean, if one is prepared to take the risk – maybe no more than floating out on a log, to start with. Lands suffer droughts but oceans do not.
Some years back, I was hired to write an encyclopedia entry on the question of whether the Apostle Thomas, featured in the New Testament, founded the ancient Mar Thoma church of India (which would make it one of the earliest churches, approximately 50 AD or so). Many scoffed at the idea that Thomas could have gotten to India from wherever he was when persecutions scattered the infant church because it was just too far.
Well, I did some research and it turned out that trade between Rome, Egypt, and India two millennia ago was a major factor in the Roman Empire’s economy. While voyages were long, difficult, and dangerous, many people undertook them because their other options were not attractive either. And, if one were interested in riches, as opposed to evangelism, coming back with a load of sugar and spices to be sold at a huge markup was a ticket to prosperity. In this case, skepticism of Thomas’s journey was overlooking the normal operations of human nature applied to a problem.
See also: Human evolution: Did large brains cause Neanderthals to go extinct? Did Neanderthals go extinct at all, as opposed to being fully assimilated into the early European population, as genome maps imply? They were never very numerous, relative to the newcomers. Here’s a familiar demographic pattern: There are simply many more partners available in the large majority group than in the small minority one. Small groups must make serious efforts to avoid assimilation (assuming they wish to); otherwise, it can just happen. The group lives on in the genome but not in society. Is there some reason for believing that that is not what really happened to Neanderthals?
Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents