On our branch of the ape evolutionary tree, humans weren’t always alone. The Neanderthals are the most well-known of our distant cousins.
(Photo : Max Fleischer, Dave Fleischer and Ovide Decroly on Wikimedia Commons)
Outdated Views on Neanderthals
We used to call Neanderthals a less complex and clever version of ourselves, which was an insult to our fellow Homo sapiens. That viewpoint has evolved, as has the type of inquiries into the inexplicable disappearance of the ancient people.
While we can’t be sure, it’s plausible that Neanderthals vanished by accident. Their tiny, isolated populations were always on the verge of extinction throughout Eurasia.
The Neanderthals were a long-lived group of hominids. Evidence shows they first appeared in Eurasia at least 400,000 years ago and may have remained in certain regions as recently as 35,000 years ago, such as Gibraltar on Spain’s southern edge.
The theories regarding the destiny of the Neanderthals have likewise evolved throughout time. The most popular idea is that we outcompeted them because we were smarter or stronger, and we either killed them or took control of their resources.
What Might Have Caused Their Extinctions
The theories about what happened to the Neanderthals have evolved throughout time as well. The most popular argument is that humans outcompeted them: we were more intelligent or stronger, and we either killed them or gained control of their resources, resulting in their extinction. He argues that the proximity of our arrival in Eurasia and their extinction lends credence to this idea.
Krist Vaesen, an associate professor of philosophy and an applied biologist at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, explains that he and his colleagues wanted to look into the null hypothesis of Neanderthal extinction: A null hypothesis assumes that there is no difference between sample populations (in this case, modern humans and our Neanderthal relatives) and that any differences are due to chance or error.
Previous explanations for the extinction of the Neanderthals were based on the premise that they were inferior to modern people. Despite this, no investigation had been done to see if they were just as capable of surviving as humans are. Rather than assuming that humans and Neanderthals were functionally interchangeable, Vaesen and his colleagues thought that we were functionally interchangeable. Are they still on the verge of extinction?
Not Entirely Our Fault
According to Vaesen, the Neanderthals spent much of their existence with a population on the verge of extinction. The disappearance of our cousins could be explained by random variations in reproductive potential and population size, and inbreeding, which reduces both fertility and survival.
Humans may have had a role, but it was unlikely to be competitive, according to Vaesen. If humans blocked the migration routes that Neanderthals used, we might have contributed to their extinction by forcing more inbreeding without directly interfering with them, he says
This idea on the disappearance of the Neanderthals is gaining traction. According to a poll published earlier this year in Scientific Reports by Vaesen and Dusseldorp, demography was the most popular explanation among 216 paleoarchaeologists, followed by environmental variables and competitive considerations.
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