Friday, May 2, 2014

Did humans kill off Neanderthals?

Making the case for human/Neanderthal equality. 

Sometime in the late Pleistocene period, humans and Neanderthals are believed to have lived together. Only one species still exists, and people who study human pre-history have battled for decades over the reasons why.

One of the more popular theories is that modern humans migrating out of Africa killed off the Neanderthal, because the humans were cognitively and technologically superior. Authors of a new study, however, say this theory is built on a false premise, and that there is no archaeological evidence to back it up. They say that Neanderthal extinction was more nuanced, possibly involving climate change, male sterility, and interbreeding with encroaching cousins from Africa.

Co-authors Paula Villa and Wil Roebroeks, respectively of the University of Colorado and Leiden University in the Netherlands, surveyed over 368 peer-reviewed papers, theses, and books. They believe the result is the most complete survey of archaeological evidence about Neanderthals compiled to date.

“There had been people who examined this particular aspect, but there has not been a systematic review like we have done,” Villa told Quartz. The reason, she says, is because many publications are in different languages: She and her co-author had to translate papers from French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese to compile their research.

“No other ancient people have aroused more controversy and confusion over the last century and a half than have the Neanderthals,” writes Daniel O’Neil, professor emeritus of anthropology at Palomar College in California. With that in mind, here is what we know about one of our closest dead relatives.

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