always trying to link neandertals and early modern humans

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This photo is from this article from the Natural Museum of History (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2013/march/neanderthal-vision-focus-gives-clues-to-extinction119362.html).

 

Seriously though, we are always trying to find the missing link. I think that trying too hard is worse than not trying to figure out human evolution at all. This article is interesting though and I do have a particularly strong interest in Neandertals, especially their cultural imprints in the stratigraphy of mankind. Literally, artifacts within layers of earth, and figuratively within the proposed family tree of human existence.

I am a firm believer in retrieving relevant data about pre-historic human life through the human skeleton. I am not so firm of a believer that the human skull (without a brain) can assist in determining adaptation to social complexity. The article proposes that (and they are saying this is set in stone.. stone, haha?) Neandertals extinction may have derived from their inability to adapt to large and complex social organization. And they can tell that by a skull cavity. Sounds strange, eh?

Some of the observations about Neandertal skulls and what they can tell us about their lifestyle are fascinating and seem like solid justifications. I’ll point out those examples from the article:

  • The size of a Neandertals skull is larger than those of early modern human (and today’s modern human). I’d like to say that there’s some golden rule that the skull size of human species decreased over time, but that’s not a definite rule; however, it’s sort of like a trend.
  • The brain size of Neandertals are assumed to be larger than those of early modern humans. As the article points out, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a larger brain means more brain activity. In fact, anthropologists say the opposite in their case.
  • Neandertals had a larger body build to adapt to their climate and environment. Compared to early modern humans they were short, stout, and robust.  This is a reflection of their cold climate, eating habits, and daily activities. Early modern humans were taller, longer appendages, and leaner. Say humans did start in Africa, then migrated to Europe. The humans in Africa had a totally different climate, a warmer climate. Neandertals evolved to adapt to climate change by developing their stereotypical body type so that their bodies could keep warmer in the cold weather. We still see this in humans today. Particularly in Inuit Eskimos. Their eating habits differed from early modern humans because they ate a large quantity of meats and fish, so proteins, and whatever vegetables were available. In Africa there were different foods that grow in warmer climates. In Africa, the mode of attaining food was something along the lines of walking long distances, running after prey, and perhaps climbing trees for fruits. In Europe, the hunting took a different toll on the body, right. No wide open grasslands and tall tropical trees to climb up to pick fruit from.

After comparing those basic characteristics between the two groups, I would then look at the time in which these two groups existed and how many skulls were compared; “25 Neanderthal skulls and 39 modern human skulls, all between 27,000 and 200,000 years old.” That’s not a huge gap in time in the grand scheme of human evolution but I believe that is a good enough time for a species to evolve into a distinctively different looking and different behaving human.

  • The article also mentions their eye sockets. The size of Neandertal eye sockets are bigger than those of early modern humans. Measurements of the eye sockets were used to estimate the size of the eyeballs and visual cortices.

So, now these scientists are pairing vision and control of their bodies, and then comparing them to brain space. I don’t know about this, where did that come from? “There was less brain space for areas dealing with things such as cognition, including those related to living in complex social groups.” It’s like, how the heck do you know that? How do you know which part of Neandertal brains, if any, left little space for cognition? Do you have a Neandertal brain? I don’t think so. And so what if they don’t want to adapt to large, complex social organization? There are plenty of cultures with small, so-called “simple” social organization that still exist in today’s ridiculously complex world.

The last paragraph also claims that Neandertals’ brain issues hindered their “ability to create, conserve and build on innovations”. This is what I say to that:

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