Friday, January 02, 2009

The reason the Neanderthals are extinct

The Neanderthals were, succinctly put another human species existing parallel to «us», to Homo Sapiens Sapiens, going extinct 35 000 years ago. Many reasons have been put forward why that happened, creating controversy since the first fossil bones were discovered, but the most accepted, or what used to be the most accepted for a long time was that they lost the competition with tribes of Sapiens, that our brain and survival traits proved superior to theirs.

During the last few decades another, completely different alternative explanation has been put forward and been given credit, though. Fairly new archeological findings are more than implying that the reason for the Neanderthal’s demise is that they gave up their nomadic lifestyle. Their lives turned static and stale, without true variety, a theory expanded upon by, among others the anthropologist Kathleen Gibson. While Sapiens’ seasonal migrations and their lifetime wanderings proved beneficial in a number of ways the Neanderthals became stuck in one place, one they hardly left at all.

Gibson and the others claim there were miniscule differences concerning intelligence and evolutionary levels between the two species. If anything the Neanderthals had bigger brain capacity. They made and transported fire (Science Jan 1996), and had an equal cultural development. Gibson says that the difference between the species isn’t biological, but social. After a shared evolution lasting millions of years they split about 100 000 years ago. 70 000 years after that there were no Neanderthals left. In a historical perspective they vanished quite quickly. Both species were natural nomads. It was only when the Neanderthals stopped wandering they vanished from the face of the Earth.

Modern men should take this to heart. We are natural nomads, but we have disregarded our heritage, one of our most important valuable skills, much of what makes us human beings, and we see the results. While we once lived in tribal societies where variety and creativity were hailed and encouraged, we now merely exist in a static society without much variety to speak of at all. Sounds familiar?

We are emulating the Neanderthals, echoing them in what most probably led to their downfall. They died, as a species during a crucial time in their evolution, during what was just a few thousand years. Looking at the world today it seems more than clear that we are facing a similar crucial challenge, and that what is threatening us is exactly the same factors making others before us fade from the face of the Earth.

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