Neanderthal brawn lost out to social human brain

Mar 13, 2013 by Mariette Le Roux
This file photo shows visitors of the Museum for Prehistory in Eyzies-de-Tayac looking at a Neanderthal man ancestors' reconstructed images, on July 19, 2004. Neanderthals' bigger eyes and bodies meant they had less brain space to dedicate to social networking, which may explain why they died out and Homo sapiens conquered the planet, according to a new study.

Neanderthals' bigger eyes and bodies meant they had less brain space to dedicate to social networking, which may explain why they died out and Homo sapiens conquered the planet, according to a new study.

An enigmatic branch of the human family tree, Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, and Middle East for up to 300,000 years but vanished from the about 30-40,000 years ago.

Why they disappeared is one of the hottest topics in anthropology. Theories say they may have been victims of or were massacred by their H. sapiens cousins.

Now experts from the University of Oxford and the in London suggest the answer could lie in available brainpower.

Neanderthals were stockier than anatomically modern humans who shared the planet with them at the time of their demise, but their brains were the same size, the team write in the journal .

As a result, Neanderthals "would have required proportionately more neural matter" to maintain and control their larger bodies, they say.

Comparing the skulls of 32 H. sapiens and 13 Neanderthals, the researchers also established the had bigger eye sockets, indicating bigger eyes and visual cortices—those areas of the brain that regulate vision.

"More of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like ," explained Oxford anthropologist and lead author Eiluned Pearce.

Among living primates and humans, the size of an individual's social network is constrained by the size of specific , she said.

The larger these areas are, the more connections an individual can maintain.

The seems to support the theory that Neanderthals were cognitively limited to smaller groups—they transported raw materials over shorter distances and rare finds of symbolic artefacts suggest a limited ability to trade.

A visitor looks at an exhibit comparing Neanderthals to Homo sapiens, at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, on March 7, 2006. Neanderthals' bigger eyes and bodies meant they had less brain space to dedicate to social networking, which may explain why they died out and Homo sapiens conquered the planet, according to a new study.

The ability to organise a collective response would have been a key to survival when times turned harsh, like during the Ice Age, Pearce told AFP.

"If Neanderthals knew fewer people in fewer neighbouring groups, this would have meant fewer sources of help in the event of, for example, local resource failure," she said.

"Smaller groups are also more liable to demographic fluctuations, meaning a greater chance of a particular group dying out. Smaller groups are less able to maintain cultural knowledge, so innovations may be more likely to be lost."

She added: "Overall, if Neanderthals had smaller groups/social networks, this could have led to their extinction along a variety of pathways."

Neanderthals probably had larger eyes in the first place because they hailed from higher latitudes and had to deal with lower light than H. sapiens, who evolved in lower-latitude Africa.

"While the physical response to high latitude conditions adopted by may have been very effective at first, the social response developed by anatomically modern humans seems to have eventually won out in the face of the climate instability that characterised high latitude Eurasia at this time," the study concludes.

The relationship between absolute brain size and higher cognitive abilities has long been controversial, the authors admit.

Their finding, that similar-sized brains had been differently organised, "could explain why Neanderthal culture appears less developed than that of early humans, for example in relation to symbolism, ornamentation and art."

Explore further: World's largest solar boat on Greek prehistoric mission

More information: Paper: rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or… .1098/rspb.2013.0168

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Digi
2.5 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2013
Imagine Neanderthals trying to survive alongside the more social and resourceful humans... I can only think of interactions leading inexorably to their demise.
plaasjaapie
1.9 / 5 (7) Mar 13, 2013
From what I've read Neanderthals problem was that they were top predators, not omnivores like H. Sap. Top predators tend to have much smaller populations than species having a wider and larger choice of foods. If you look at percentage of relict Neanderthal genes in the European H. Sap. genome, it is entirely likely that Neanderthals were simply absorbed into the much larger H. Sap. community.
Egleton
2.9 / 5 (12) Mar 13, 2013
Oh no. Not the brain to bodyweight hogwash again. So if I lose weight I become cleverer?
Puleese. That old chestnut is trotted out everytime we have to acknowledge that Sperm Whales have the biggest brain on the planet.
What's the matter H.Sap? Can't you handle the truth? You are not God's gift to creation. You are an Ape. Build a bridge and get over it.
Brains aren't there to cool the blood. They are there for thinking with. And if evolution wanted you to have a bigger brain she would have given you one.
The Sperm Whales brain is that big because it needs to be that big, for some reason.
Perhaps we shouldn't render them down for their fat.
verkle
2.7 / 5 (13) Mar 13, 2013
These stabs in the dark of trying to define what these people were like is hogwash. Really, utter nonsense. I don't consider it science.

beyondApsis
4.2 / 5 (10) Mar 13, 2013
These stabs in the dark of trying to define what these people were like is hogwash. Really, utter nonsense. I don't consider it science.

I would suppose we can just ignore paleoanthropology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, neuroanthropology, bioarchaeology, anthropometry and probably a few more of the "non-sciences" involved here.
UFORocks
5 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2013
Oh no. Not the brain to bodyweight hogwash again. So if I lose weight I become cleverer?
Puleese. That old chestnut is trotted out everytime we have to acknowledge that Sperm Whales have the biggest brain on the planet.
What's the matter H.Sap? Can't you handle the truth? You are not God's gift to creation. You are an Ape. Build a bridge and get over it.
Brains aren't there to cool the blood. They are there for thinking with. And if evolution wanted you to have a bigger brain she would have given you one.
The Sperm Whales brain is that big because it needs to be that big, for some reason.
Perhaps we shouldn't render them down for their fat.


That's actually not what the article says at all...
nejc2008
2 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2013
Indeed I am considering myself extremely lucky to live in the age when Science is giving us such extraordinary findings.

I wonder how much this crap of research costed and who financed it.

No hard feelings pls.
alanborky
not rated yet Mar 13, 2013
Given most socialization processes're actually conducted with the eyes and homo Sapiens're particularly attracted to large eyed young animals totty & human babies it's a wonder we don't have more Neanderthal DNA.

Factor in larger eyes probably confer greater capacity to hunt under darker conditions like night and winter and it's a wonder it isn't the Neanderthals who're speculating on why us homo Sapiens became extinct.
VendicarE
3 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2013
And thus man began the inevitable path from unthinking brute to enlightened Socialism.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (6) Mar 13, 2013
Well, either culturally or biologically, neanderthal reproduction had most likely become seasonal, like any temperate or sub-arctic animal. It is well-known that the further north a species resides, the more seasonal its repro becomes. Offspring need the maximum time to grow before the next winter sets in.

Humans who only mated part of the year could not compete with their tropical cousins who could replace battle losses faster and overwhelm them. We see this with many other invasive species.

And neanderthals would also naturally resist compromising their hard-won adaptation by mating with tropicals. Tropicals in northern climes however would have everything to gain for their offspring by mating with neanderthals. We see this mechanism at work within present-day cultures. We call this prejudice.

This does not mean there arent valid biological reasons for it. Just that they no longer apply and are in fact detrimental to western societies intent upon amalgamation.
Skepticus
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 14, 2013
Neanderthals were stockier than anatomically modern humans who shared the planet with them at the time of their demise, but their brains were the same size... As a result, Neanderthals "would have required proportionately more neural matter" to maintain and control their larger bodies..

So big-bodied sumo wrestlers, weight-lifters, footballers, and anyone else, who are not know to having larger brains must be stupid, socially awkward or both, compared to the rest?
the hominids had bigger eye sockets, indicating bigger eyes and visual cortices—those areas of the brain that regulate vision. "More of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking

So they saw much, and having a better understanding and control of themselves, rather than ganging up for delightful schemes of rapes, pillages, domination, subjugation and wars, like the "socially-networked" "Homo Sapiens"?
antigoracle
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 14, 2013
So those of us not on bookFace and Tweeter are destined for extinction? I think not.
Claudius
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 16, 2013
Where did this large eye socket thing come from? Here is what claims to be the "most accurate reconstruction" of a Neanderthal: http://io9.com/59...ty-parts

Why are the eyes not large in this reconstruction? Why does he look like Chuck Norris? On the other hand, consider Marty Feldman, was he intellectually challenged due to his large eyes?

Are there no Homo Sapiens skulls with large eye sockets? Isn't it possible that some Neanderthals had large eye sockets and others didn't?

The whole thing is silly. And judging from Chuck Norris, the Neanderthals are still with us.
DarkHorse66
3 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2013
"bigger eyes and less brainspace for social networking"
That's a justification for dying out?
That really is kind of inane. Social ability isn't dependent on brainsize, not even on a relative basis, ie vs bodysize.That is more likely to depend on how the brain is wired, than how much space there is.I agree with the comments made by you guys. That kind of a comment kind of makes me wonder where babies of all kinds(big, doey eyes, smaller head than the adult), animals that have learnt to live with us(just think of the family dog, deliberately giving you 'I'm so cute and lovable" wide eyed look when s/he WANTS THAT TREAT...:) or any animal that has good night vision(not all of those are loners outside of breeding season)fit in.On brain size alone,all you need to think of is swarming rodents,esp.the ones with long tails.They are HIGHLY social with their own kind.As for reduced social ability;even in modern-day humanity this can exist as a disorder(or as part of one,eg autism)
Regards,DH66
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Mar 19, 2013
Come on. We all know the Neanderthals were wiped out by global warming and it's going to do the same to us.