Monday, July 4, 2016

How did the Neanderthals go extinct?

Some people theorize that modern humans out-competed or replaced Neanderthals and this is how I think modern humans got into Europe and Asia.

Modern humans have been existence for 200,000 years and only in the last 50,000 years or so made it into Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.  How did we do it?  To do so, let us look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Neanderthals and make some guesses.

First, the Neanderthal has a brain bigger than ours.   Males tend to be five feet six inches (166 cm-ish) with females being ten percent shorter.  Therefore, they did not have a big body so we cannot use the big body big brain explanation.  Their stone tool kit is mostly the same throughout their 300,000-year existence, they show no trade links, their burial rites were simpler than ours, and their frontal lobes were smaller.

So what were their bigger brains doing?  Well, Neanderthals have bigger eyes than we do.  I am thinking that they use that extra gray matter to see well better than we can.  I am going to go out on the limb and hypothesize that they have excellent night vision and superior sense of smell.

In addition, they had bigger muscles and a more robust physique.  More muscles mean that they need more food.  Oh, and Neanderthals are stocky so that they could easily retain heat.

Therefore, I am thinking that they hunted at night.  They speared our early ancestors at night when they were sleeping and that kept the modern humans out of Europe for tens of thousands of years.  Ambush hunting and night stalking were key tactics that put meat on the spit for the Neanderthals.

So how did we beat them and get into Europe?  Technology, tactics, and numbers.  The bow invented over 60,000 years ago, and most likely used against the Neanderthals.  I predict evidence of bow and arrow will be found in the same period during the decline of the Neanderthals, or at the very least spear throwers, slings, or javelins.  Modern humans used ranged weapons to counter the Neanderthal’s brawn.

Modern humans can more efficiently use the environment to get more food out of it than the Neanderthals and use less food so we can outnumber the Neanderthals.  In addition, with our larger social network, we can call in allies to increase the warriors attacking the Neanderthals.

Let us put this into an example.  There was peace with the Neanderthals.  Then a group of young hunters and their families ventured into a place that the Neanderthals called theirs, due to wanting their own hunting grounds, or maybe because the lands they were on was over hunted and game was sparse, or ignorance or…

The Neanderthals decide to kill the intruders as they did for tens of thousands of years in the past.  They pull a night raid.  The night terrors come.  Both groups fight, and the modern human tribe loses.  However, a few moderns get away.  They go to several nearby tribes and tell a tale of terror.  Humans organize a war party composing of several tribes attacking the Neanderthal’s one tribe.  They sleep outside of the Neanderthal’s territory and head out in the morning.

The war party would find the Neanderthal tribe with tracking or scouting or even attack just the closest Neanderthal tribe.  They start the fight at range from ambush or assault.  Outnumbered, and facing a blizzard of ranged projectiles, they may counterattack, become confused or retreat.

Then the moderns fight outnumbering the Neanderthals or do hit and run attacks.  In addition, when you outnumber your opponents, attacking from the side or back becomes viable, while defending against multiple attacks becomes increasingly hard.  In addition, if the moderns win, they will probably run down the rest of the Neanderthals because of our modern runner’s physique.

Or not.  This is one tactic among hundreds maybe thousands, some more than others dependent on terrain, weather, and other variables.

Now modern humans can drive the Neanderthals off prime hunting grounds, enter Europe and North Asia, steal prey from them, and occupy resources such as flint deposits.  Now groups of Neanderthals are cut off.  The Neanderthals start to suffer from inbreeding and other problems of small populations, plus disease.

So prediction:  Evidence will be found that modern humans expand from the grasslands (where their throwing spears, slings, and bow rule) to forests with prime hunting grounds pushing back Neanderthals.

Ah, but we have not covered logistics, so let us start.  Modern humans use lands more efficiently than Neanderthals, so when bad seasons come or catastrophes occur, moderns will survive better and would have a lower infant mortality rate due to finding more food, and because of that will repopulate areas more quickly.

And the key catastrophe that happened is Toba.  The supervolcano, which nearly killed us off some 75,000 years ago, was the linchpin.  After that event, humans showed more creativity and better stone tools and perhaps weakened the Neanderthals. 

Modern humans also have better gear.  The needle gives fitted clothing, which reduces the loss of body heat, so modern humans do not need to eat as much.  Other tools, such as better tents, nets, hafted tools, better uses of fire, make life easier and more efficient.  Also, better tools mean better morale.

We are talking about tens of thousands of people over thousands of years, in different environments, so not every encounter was violent, or as I think happened, and (ahem) some of us carry some Neanderthal genes.  On a tangent, funny we have not found Neanderthal Mitochondria in our modern populations, though we have not looked for it.

Killing, driving them out of lands (habitat loss), and being better at survival ended their 300,000-year reign as well as several other hominin species.  Tech and tactics.