Neanderthal Intelligence As Cause Of Extinction Not True, Say Researchers
    By News Staff | August 25th 2008 04:00 AM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) did not become extinct because they were less intelligent than our ancestors (Homo sapiens), says a research team that has shown that early stone tool technologies developed by our species, Homo sapiens, were no more efficient than those used by Neanderthals.

    They say their discovery debunks a textbook belief held by archaeologists for more than 60 years.

    The team spent three years flintknapping (producing stone tools). They recreated stone tools known as 'flakes,' which were wider tools originally used by both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, and 'blades,' a narrower stone tool later adopted by Homo sapiens. Archaeologists often use the development of stone blades and their assumed efficiency as proof of Homo sapiens' superior intellect. To test this, the team analysed the data to compare the number of tools produced, how much cutting-edge was created, the efficiency in consuming raw material and how long tools lasted.

    Blades were first produced by Homo sapiens during their colonization of Europe from Africa approximately 40,000 years ago. This has traditionally been thought to be a dramatic technological advance, helping Homo sapiens out-compete, and eventually eradicate, their Stone Age cousins. Yet when the research team analysed their data there was no statistical difference between the efficiency of the two technologies. In fact, their findings showed that in some respects the flakes favoured by Neanderthals were more efficient than the blades adopted by Homo sapiens.

    The Neanderthals, believed to be a different species from Homo sapiens, evolved in Ice Age Europe, while the latter evolved in Africa before spreading out to the rest of the world around 50-40,000 years ago. Neanderthals are thought to have died out around 28,000 years ago, suggesting at least 10,000 years of overlap and possible interaction between the two species in Europe.

    Many long-held beliefs suggesting why the Neanderthals went extinct have been debunked in recent years. Research has already shown that Neanderthals were as good at hunting as Homo sapiens and had no clear disadvantage in their ability to communicate. Now, these latest findings add to the growing evidence that Neanderthals were no less intelligent than our ancestors.

    Metin Eren, an MA Experimental Archaeology student at the University of Exeter and lead author on the paper comments: "Our research disputes a major pillar holding up the long-held assumption that Homo sapiens were more advanced than Neanderthals. It is time for archaeologists to start searching for other reasons why Neanderthals became extinct while our ancestors survived. Technologically speaking, there is no clear advantage of one tool over the other. When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' and more in terms of 'different.'"

    Now that it is established that there is no technical advantage to blades, why did Homo sapiens adopt this technology during their colonization of Europe? The researchers suggest that the reason for this shift may be more cultural or symbolic. Eren explains: "Colonizing a continent isn't easy. Colonizing a continent during the Ice Age is even harder. So, for early Homo sapiens colonizing Ice Age Europe, a new shared and flashy-looking technology might serve as one form of social glue by which larger social networks were bonded. Thus, during hard times and resource droughts these larger social networks might act like a type of 'life insurance,' ensuring exchange and trade among members on the same 'team.'"

    The University of Exeter is the only university in the world to offer a degree course in Experimental Archaeology. This strand of archaeology focuses on understanding how people lived in the past by recreating their activities and replicating their technologies. Eren says: "It was only by spending three years in the lab learning how to physically make these tools that we were able to finally replicate them accurately enough to come up with our findings."

    This research was funded by the National Science Foundation of the USA and the Exeter Graduation Fund.

    Article: Metin I. Eren, Aaron Greenspan, C. Garth Sampson, 'Are Upper Paleolithic blade cores more productive than Middle Paleolithic discoidal cores? A replication experiment' is published by Elsevier, Journal of Human Evolution


    Do not discount the possibility that Neanderthal society had a bout of political correctness seen today in the USA and Britain wherein homosexuality became increasing acceptable and may have become the preference of the majority leading to a decrease in births to a level below the replacement rate resulting in the extinction of the species.

    Obviously you misunderstand homosexuality. It's an orientation, not a 'preference.' I'm not being politically correct here. Just correct.

    Anyway, even if neanderthals and humans had a similar technical intelligence when it came to tools, the neanderthal mind still obviously differed. Just look at the way we bury bodies, with ceremony and ritual and reverence. Neanderthal bodies didn't recieve burials. They were just dragged out and left to rot.

    There's definitely a brain difference between humans and neanderthals, even if it isn't technical intelligence. Maybe they had less social intelligence. Without social intelligence, we wouldn't be able to cooperate and build successful societies in the way that we do.

    Their 'social glue' notion is an interesting one.   Homo sapiens became more advanced because we survived, plain and simple.

    P.S.  Obbop would seem to have an agenda in his comment since the phrasing he used was primarily political/cultural and had no science thinking at all.   The idea that neanderthals sat around having committee meetings and referendums on social issues which caused them to die off is silly.
    that is incorrect about neanderthal bodies not receiving burial, they did receive burial, almost all of them, and some were buried as groups, such as small family groups

    Obviously, you know nothing about Neanderthals and their burrials. "Asia has shown that pits had been dug, corpses had been placed in the pits, and the pits had been filled in. For example, the Neanderthal skeletons from Spy, Belguim; ones from various sites in France, such as La Chapelle-aux-Saints; several Shanidar individuals; and the Neanderthals from Amud and Tabun, both in Israel, were found in burial pits." Individuals were found on their sides or backs, in the fetal position, along with offerings. The previous quote was from my biological anthropology textbook, titled, Essentials of Physical Anthropology, Larsen, 2010 p. 290. There are no physical differences between the Neanderthals and modern Homo sapiens. Perhaps you should do your research before you make yourself look stupid, as you have just done. By the way, I am an Anthropology major at Georgia Southern University, and I, unlike you, do know what I am talking about. Have a nice day! :)

    Some years ago I paid a visit to the Oxford Natural History Museum and saw three Neanderthal skulls displayed alongside one of Homo sapiens. Compared with the Neanderthals, the Homosap looked like the sort of chap one wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley at night. Robert H. Olley Physics Department University of Reading England
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Now hold on thar (in the unforgettable phrase of that paragon of horse sense, the great Kabong): yes, we have two genetically distinct human species facing essentially the same survival challenge, a set of conditions existing in a single large area and requiring both groups to adapt to the same changes over several millennia. And yes, the tools made and used by the so-called ‘smart’ kind of humanity were no improvement over—indeed, a lot of the time not different from—the technology long in the possession of the other, older, assumedly more primitive group, who were not only established in this region for maybe a quarter-million years, but were actually indigenous to it, and—having evolved from an earlier species precisely as an evolutionary adaptation to that continent’s unique and very tough environment, unquestionably more ‘at home’ in it.
    Except that they weren’t more fit to survive in it, according to the definitive criterion: survival.
    And so it seems that the case made by the Exeter researchers for ‘intelligence’ of Neanderthals as a group being not inferior to the late arriving moderns, at least in terms of its practical value for survival, doesn't add up. In fact, since we know that the resources for survival of the older group, intelligence excepted, were in every case equal to or even superior to the newcomers (tools, physical adaptation, culture conforming with exquisite precision to the environment in a thousand ways), it would seem that it must have been the immigrants’ intellectual advantages that decided the contest. What else is there?
    Yes, both groups had the demonstrated capacity to master the same technology. But only one of them had the capacity to master writing, mechanization, powered flight, quantum physics, and this global electronic infrastructure for ideas enabling this discussion.
    So I think there’s a fallacy in determining the intellectual potential of a group by its concrete achievements at a particular moment—was Cortez, with his more lethal European war technology, representing people more intelligent than those of Montezuma?
    It would seem likely that the Neanderthals lost the contest for survival in Europe because the new arrivals were smarter in ways that don’t survive in the archaeological record—better social organization, more sophisticated cooperation, greater specialization, greater tactical agility, more inventive exploitation of identical resources.

    So I think there’s a fallacy in determining the intellectual potential of a group by its concrete achievements at a particular moment—was Cortez, with his more lethal European war technology, representing people more intelligent than those of Montezuma?
    In a real sense, as the word 'intelligent' is used, he was.   But not because of a musket, more because of the plow, which really propelled Europe into world leadership.   And he was a product of all it wrought, like the usage of the printing press, which made more readers in Europe than anywhere in the world.

    Today, we have an opposite metric for intelligence.   You or I might survive for 2 days in the Australian Outback but you can take any Aborigine from there and he can learn to drive a cab quite easily.   So Aborigines are a lot more intelligent than we are if you frame it the proper way.

    The modern theory tends to be that climate killed Neanderthals rather than competition but it's hard to know how much of that is climate change bandwagon jumping.
    Larry Arnold
    Or you could just argue that it is a matter of definition, that whoever gets to wield the biggest stick over the opponent and survives gets to write the history which of course will demonstrate that the winner was the most intelligent regardless of what the facts were.
    it seems more likely to me, that rather than being outcompeted, or being beating in a battle of witts by the homo sapiens, that perhaps the homo sapiens, being a species very similar and yet different, could have spread diseases which the neanderthals had never encountered before, and thus, could not fight off

    At Bluetown school, Sheppey, I was taught that Neandertals were dumb brutes.
    Today we have good reason to expect that Neandertals had language.
    Apart from that, we know very little.

    For anyone here who is interested, or any student who lands here from a web search, here is a well written, well reasoned precis, with references, from David W. Frayer, Department of Anthropology, University of Kansas, USA.  (Free pdf)
    Gerhard Adam
    It seems to me that the question hasn't actually been accurately framed in any meaningful way.  To my way of thinking there are three possible scenarios that need to be established first. 

    1.  Did homo sapiens and neanderthals actively compete for territory or resources?
    2.  Did homo sapiens and neanderthals coexist and cooperate?
    3.  Did homo sapiens and neanderthals largely ignore each other?

    In cases #2 and #3, it would seem that whatever caused the demise of the neanderthals would have been intrinsic in themselves.  Whether this would be due to environmental changes, disease, etc.  The point being that whatever was happening in the homo sapiens realm would have been irrelevant in determining the impact on neanderthals.

    In the first case, we would also have to consider what "actively competing" actually means.  There are many species with which we can be said to compete, but it doesn't drive them to extinction, so I'm not clear on what is meant by such competition.  Certainly if there were aggressive tendencies between the groups (i.e. cannibalism or warfare), then that would clearly tend to favor the more persistent group.  However, such aggressive is also expensive to maintain, so any group pursuing such a strategy would have been subject to extermination.  This is precisely what happens when humans encounter any species that directly threatens humans (with our population expansion) and therein is the normal cause for extinction of such species (or at least a decline; wolves, grizzly bears, etc.).

    I dont' see the connection to intelligence at all, since a species only needs to be intelligent enough to survive in it's environment.  Unless competition results in confrontation, then intelligence wouldn't be sufficient to produce separate results for different groups.

    In fact, it could probably be argued that most groups that confront competitors, tend to move to new territories rather than engage in risky behaviors that can compromise survival.  Therefore if these forms of humans coexisted for millenia, then it is reasonable to assume that there weren't likely any serious hostilities between the groups.  That being said, then the most likely culprits in the demise of neanerthals were disease, and a slower reproductive rate that might have made them more susceptible than their homo sapiens counterparts if things changed.  Coupled with environmental changes, it wouldn't take much of a reproductive variation between the two groups to result in one dominating a region and the other declining.
    Mundus vult decipi