Neanderthals may have been smarter than homo sapiens, a new study has found, and bad timing may have been the reason they went extinct.
Let’s be honest, we all kind of look down on Neanderthals as sort of our “dumb” cousins who couldn’t hack it and went extinct. But a remarkable new study claims that Neanderthals might have been the smart ones, and we just simply figured out a way to outlast them.
In a new paper, scientists described how these ancient hominins who lived in Europe and Asia for 300,000 years actually created their own tools and jewelry, and even cared for their elderly. But after Homo sapiens began to mix with Homo neanderthalensis populations, the latter disappeared.
Originally, scientists thought that Neanderthals just had something wrong with them, or perhaps were more vulnerable to disease. But the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, claims that it was just a combination of population dynamics and some bad timing. That may not sound like much, but back then it was enough to be the difference between extinction and survival.
“Most hypotheses in the heated debate about the Neanderthals’ replacement by modern humans highlight the role of environmental pressures or attribute the Neanderthals’ demise to competition with modern humans, who occupied the same ecological niche,” the abstract of the paper states. “The latter assume that modern humans benefited from some selective advantage over Neanderthals, which led to the their extinction. Here we show that a scenario of migration and selectively neutral species drift predicts the Neanderthals’ replacement.
“Our model offers a parsimonious alternative to those that invoke external factors or selective advantage, and represents a null hypothesis for assessing such alternatives. For a wide range of parameters, this hypothesis cannot be rejected. Moreover, we suggest that although selection and environmental factors may or may not have played a role in the inter-species dynamics of Neanderthals and modern humans, the eventual replacement of the Neanderthals was determined by the repeated migration of modern humans from Africa into Eurasia.”