From George Dvorsky at Gizmodo:
New research published today in Scientific Reports suggests important differences in cognitive and neural function between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals led to differences in behavior that may have resulted in the conditions under which anatomically modern humans succeeded and Neanderthals failed some 45,000 years ago. To reach this conclusion—and in one of the first studies of its kind—scientists conducted a comparative analysis of Neanderthal and early modern human skulls to infer brain function. But because no other archaeological evidence was provided to bolster the case, and because the shape and size of brains cannot be definitively tied to cognitive capacity and behavior, the question of what caused Neanderthal extinction remains very much unsettled.
However, many Neanderthal artifacts have been found, and they suggest a culture similar to that of modern humans.
“This team has found significant differences between Neanderthal brains and modern human brains, specifically in brain areas we associate today with human capacities for language, social cooperation, and memory capacity,” Lana Ruck, a doctoral student in the Cognitive Science Program at the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, told Gizmodo. “Because these are all very adaptive behaviors which have expanded in humans relative to other species today, it is interesting to study how these brain areas differed between the hominins.” More.
The team did not actually study brains. None have been preserved. They studied skulls and inferred or speculated all the rest.
Anyway, 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. Otherwise, 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?
See also: Did Neanderthals’ faces help them cope with the Ice Age?
Okay, so Neanderthals cared for each other
Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?