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Human Innovation/Weapons Didn't Bully Neanderthals into Extinction

Apr 28, 2015 04:24 PM EDT

So what happened to the Neanderthals? That's been a question on a lot of experts' minds ever since it was first determined that the human-like sub-species vanished from the face of the Earth some 40,000 years ago. One popular theory was that near-modern humans simply bullied them into extinction with a superior intellect, ingenuity, and weapon-craft. Now, experts have found strong evidence that strongly disputes that claim.

According to a study recently published in the Journal of Human Evolution, experts with Nagoya University and The University of Tokyo, Japan recently painstakingly analyzed countless stone weapons used by humans between 42,000 and 34,000 years ago.

They determined that while the design of these tools was often clearer or made more sense to the modern mind, they were actually no more effective than the tools Neanderthals were using around the same time.

"We're not so special, I don't think we survived Neanderthals simply because of technological competence," Seiji Kadowaki, first author of the study from Nagoya University, Japan, said in a recent statement. "Our work is related to the processes behind the global spread of modern humans, and specifically the cultural impact of the modern humans who migrated to Europe."

Neanderthals: 'Brutes' With Brains

Many anthropologists have suggested that innovation in weapons enabled humans to spread out of Africa to Europe, where they encountered and competed with Neanderthal groups for food and other essential resources. Based on early understanding of the brutish Neanderthal skeletal structure, it was thought that these beings were far less intelligent than early humans, relying on their superior strength and hardiness to muscle out a primitive living. (Scroll to read on...)

However, previous research has revealed that this just wasn't so. Over the last year alone, Nature World News has reported on at least nine studies detailing evidence of how smart these "sub humans" really were - cooperating with early humans, catching evasive prey like pigeons and even dolphins with complex traps, crafting their own bone tools, and even developing their own art forms.

"Neanderthals are often thought of to be simple-minded mumbling, bumbling, stumbling fools, but the more we know about them the more sophisticated they've become," added David Frayer, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas, who commented on a recent discovery of Neanderthal jewelry.

In the Japanese researcher's work, they found evidence that supports this theory, finding that early humans were just as "primitive" as their Neanderthal counterparts.

Wayward Weapons

Specifically, the people of the Early Ahmarian culture and the Protoaurignacian culture, living in south and west Europe and west Asia around 40,000 years ago, were long seen as the inventors of the thrown hunting-spear - an innovation that would have allowed hunters to take down large and dangerous prey from a safe distance. This could have given them significant advantage over Neanderthals as they moved further into European territory. (Scroll to read on...)

However, closer inspection of stone artifacts told a very different tale.

"We looked at the basic timeline revealed by similar stone points, and it shows that humans were using them in Europe before they appeared in the Levant (a key stomping ground for early humans in Asia) - the opposite of what we'd expect if the innovation had led to the humans' migration from Africa to Europe," Kadowaki explained.

"Our new findings mean that the research community now needs to reconsider the assumption that our ancestors moved to Europe and succeeded where Neanderthals failed because of cultural and technological innovations brought from Africa or west Asia," he pressed.

Still, this suggests that there are other options that have yet to be explored. For instance, humans could have emigrated to Europe earlier than thought, developed throwing spears there, only to bring the perfected innovation back to Asia. At the same time, Neanderthals may have disappeared earlier than thought - not bullied out by humans, but instead already near extinction by the time humans showed up.

"We're very excited about our new model. We think the causes of human evolution are more complicated than just being about technology," Kadowaki added. "Now that we've re-examined the traditional model about the northern migration route to Europe, we are planning to re-evaluate the model on the southern migration route - from East Africa to South Asia."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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