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Neanderthals Just As Smart as Modern Humans

Apr 30, 2014 04:57 PM EDT
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Despite common belief, Neanderthals were just as intelligent as today's modern humans. Scientific evidence does not support the widely held belief that our "simple" biped relatives were driven to extinction by our highly intelligent ancestors, according to a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Neanderthals thrived between about 350,000 and 40,000 years ago in parts of Europe and Asia. Our ancestors, referred to as "anatomically modern humans," drove them out, but not because of their dimwittedness or primitive ways.

But after an extensive review of Neanderthal research scientists confirmed that we are not superior to our hairy close relatives.

"The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there," CU-Boulder researcher Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. "What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true."

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, refutes prior hypotheses explaining why Neanderthals no longer roam the Earth. In the past, some researchers have tried to explain the demise of the Neanderthals by suggesting that the newcomers were superior to Neanderthals in key ways, including their ability to hunt, communicate, innovate and adapt to different environments.

Villa and co-author Wil Roebroeks suppose that past misrepresentation may be linked to the tendency of researchers to compare Neanderthals, who lived in the Middle Paleolithic, to modern humans living during the more recent Upper Paleolithic period. This, it turns out, is the equivalent of comparing apples to oranges.

"Researchers were comparing Neanderthals not to their contemporaries on other continents but to their successors," Villa explained. "It would be like comparing the performance of Model T Fords, widely used in America and Europe in the early part of the last century, to the performance of a modern-day Ferrari and conclude that Henry Ford was cognitively inferior to Enzo Ferrari."

Many people are tempted to pinpoint cognitive inferiority for Neanderthals' demise, but archaeologists assert that there is no evidence to support this popular opinion.

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