Study questions Neandertal inferiority to early modern humans

Apr 30, 2014 by Paola Villa
Neanderthals

If you think Neanderthals were stupid and primitive, it's time to think again. The widely held notion that Neanderthals were dimwitted and that their inferior intelligence allowed them to be driven to extinction by the much brighter ancestors of modern humans is not supported by scientific evidence, according to a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Neanderthals thrived in a large swath of Europe and Asia between about 350,000 and 40,000 years ago. They disappeared after our ancestors, a group referred to as "anatomically modern humans," crossed into Europe from Africa.

In the past, some researchers have tried to explain the demise of the Neanderthals by suggesting that the newcomers were superior to Neanderthals in key ways, including their ability to hunt, communicate, innovate and adapt to different environments.

But in an extensive review of recent Neanderthal research, CU-Boulder researcher Paola Villa and co-author Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, make the case that the available evidence does not support the opinion that Neanderthals were less advanced than anatomically modern humans. Their paper was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

"The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there," said Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. "What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true."

Villa and Roebroeks scrutinized nearly a dozen common explanations for Neanderthal extinction that rely largely on the notion that the Neanderthals were inferior to anatomically modern humans. These include the hypotheses that Neanderthals did not use complex, symbolic communication; that they were less efficient hunters who had inferior weapons; and that they had a narrow diet that put them at a competitive disadvantage to anatomically modern humans, who ate a broad range of things.

The researchers found that none of the hypotheses were supported by the available research. For example, evidence from multiple archaeological sites in Europe suggests that Neanderthals hunted as a group, using the landscape to aid them.

Researchers have shown that Neanderthals likely herded hundreds of bison to their death by steering them into a sinkhole in southwestern France. At another site used by Neanderthals, this one in the Channel Islands, fossilized remains of 18 mammoths and five woolly rhinoceroses were discovered at the base of a deep ravine. These findings imply that Neanderthals could plan ahead, communicate as a group and make efficient use of their surroundings, the authors said.

Other archaeological evidence unearthed at Neanderthal sites provides reason to believe that Neanderthals did in fact have a diverse diet. Microfossils found in Neanderthal teeth and food remains left behind at cooking sites indicate that they may have eaten wild peas, acorns, pistachios, grass seeds, wild olives, pine nuts and date palms depending on what was locally available.

Additionally, researchers have found ochre, a kind of earth pigment, at sites inhabited by Neanderthals, which may have been used for body painting. Ornaments have also been collected at Neanderthal sites. Taken together, these findings suggest that Neanderthals had cultural rituals and symbolic communication.

Villa and Roebroeks say that the past misrepresentation of Neanderthals' cognitive ability may be linked to the tendency of researchers to compare Neanderthals, who lived in the Middle Paleolithic, to modern humans living during the more recent Upper Paleolithic period, when leaps in technology were being made.

"Researchers were comparing Neanderthals not to their contemporaries on other continents but to their successors," Villa said. "It would be like comparing the performance of Model T Fords, widely used in America and Europe in the early part of the last century, to the performance of a modern-day Ferrari and conclude that Henry Ford was cognitively inferior to Enzo Ferrari."

Although many still search for a simple explanation and like to attribute the Neanderthal demise to a single factor, such as cognitive or technological inferiority, archaeology shows that there is no support for such interpretations, the authors said.

But if Neanderthals were not technologically and cognitively disadvantaged, why didn't they survive?

The researchers argue that the real reason for Neanderthal extinction is likely complex, but they say some clues may be found in recent analyses of the Neanderthal genome over the last several years. These genomic studies suggest that anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals likely interbred and that the resulting male children may have had reduced fertility. Recent genomic studies also suggest that Neanderthals lived in small groups. All of these factors could have contributed to the decline of the Neanderthals, who were eventually swamped and assimilated by the increasing numbers of modern immigrants.

Explore further: Research finds Neandertals, not modern humans, made first specialized bone tools in Europe

More information: Villa P, Roebroeks W (2014) Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex. PLoS ONE 9(4): e96424. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096424

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Steve 200mph Cruiz
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 30, 2014
I always love reading about our relatives. It really puts into context what it is to be a human in the animal kingdom. Frankly I think a Neanderthal could function in society today, even a chimp can use a keyboard or somewhat operate a tablet as well as learn a colorful vocabulary. Language and our tools would be no problem for them to utilize. I think their cognition of math would be the determining factor in whether they could actually go on to succeed in our society. They might also exceed us on average, although i'm sure it would be marginal diffrence. I'd like to see it though, it would be an important perspective.
bholder
4.7 / 5 (3) Apr 30, 2014
Ummm, comment to the author - Neanderthals (at least some of them) are our ancestors, too. Kinda like you don't read your own articles?

They did survive, just not as a separate species, check the DNA, "it's in there", as they say...
CharlesRKiss
5 / 5 (3) Apr 30, 2014
Hi, I don't disagree. But having observed the survival of modern human aggression and bigotry traits (and observed it's presence in writing recorded throughout all of written human history, ie. slavery, and genocide); it's also very likely Neanderthals were slowly marginalized into extinction much more energetically, and deliberately.
Modernmystic
2.3 / 5 (4) Apr 30, 2014
Superiority/inferiority are both HIGHLY subjective terms in this context.

In the ultimate context, yes of course we were superior. We're here, they aren't. They may have lived longer, but this is inconclusive. We were clearly more adaptable.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Apr 30, 2014
Funny illustration for an article discussing commonalities. While we know there were infrequent crossbreeding, the Neandertals went extinct alone at the end of a glaciation. They never numbered many, the africans that spawned the anatomically modern subspecies were 10 times as many (Pääbo's latest numbers), so they were more likely to go extinct.

@Steve: They were among our ancestors rather than distant relatives. They likely had the same language capability, both bones and genes accords. Even distant monkeys, or vocal birds like parakeets, handle numbers as well (monkeys) or better (parakeets) than we do.

Latest I heard it is absolute brain size that best correlates with performance: "species' performance was predicted by brain size". [ http://johnhawks....014.html ] Neandertals had larger brains than early AMH, which in turn had larger brains than we have...
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 30, 2014
@ModernMystic: They are here too! Neandertals were among our ancestors, they didn't go extinct in that sense anymore than pure bred AMHs did. (Oh, well, the minority which is Africans. And it turns out they too have some ancestral subspecies inbreeding, confirmed now. =D)

In fact, AFAIU the frequency of Neandertal (and possibly Denisovan too) alleles surviving in the mix that is us is higher than the crossbreeding numbers would extrapolate too. And many of the genes suspected to imply psychological difficulties (schizophrenia among them) derives purely from the other, AMH side. Neandertal and, I think, Denisovan genes are superior in both comparisons. Maybe the putative H. erectus inbreeding that Pääbo et al now sees are similarly successful in quantitative terms.

That means AMH were dominating purely on numbers, akin to how the chinese swamps all aggressors.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Apr 30, 2014
Yes, interbreeding and absorption are undoubtedly it, and this means that we modern humans are the inheritors of all those who came before.

The AMH is an almalgam of different ratios of those traits, which produced, over time, the so-called races as we think of them today, as a result of local environment, reproductive success, and cultural success via conquest/absorption.

If you have ever taken a really close look at the reconstructions of these "fossil humans" you will note the striking physical resemblances to humans we see today, the whole world over.

They didn't go extinct --they are us.
JVK
1 / 5 (11) Apr 30, 2014
Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model. http://www.ncbi.n...24693353

"Two additional recent reports link substitution of the amino acid alanine for the amino acid valine (Grossman et al., 2013) to nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution. The alanine substitution for valine does not appear to be under any selection pressure in mice. The cause-and-effect relationship was established in mice by comparing the effects of the alanine, which is under selection pressure in humans, via its substitution for valine in mice (Kamberov et al., 2013).

These two reports (Grossman et al., 2013; Kamberov et al., 2013) tell a new short story of adaptive evolution. The story begins with what was probably a nutrient-dependent variant allele that arose in central China approximately 30,000 years ago. The effect of the allele is adaptive and it is manifested in the context of an effect on sweat, skin, hair, and teeth. In other mammals..."
rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (9) Apr 30, 2014
@JVK

And it begins......
JVK
1 / 5 (11) Apr 30, 2014
Reconstructing the DNA Methylation Maps of the Neandertal and the Denisovan
http://www.scienc...abstract

"We hope that the differences in methylation discovered here will help to uncover the epigenetic basis for phenotypic differences between present-day and archaic humans and shed light on the role of epigenetics in the recent evolution of our lineage."

The fossil record and what is currently known about DNA methylation link the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in the organized genomes of species from microbes to man. That suggests it is time to stop thinking in terms of theories about mutations, natural selection, and the evolution of species diversity.

Ecological variation led to ecological adaptation in every species on this planet. It would be remarkable if the changes in morphology and behavior in our species were not nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled.

http://www.ncbi.n...24693349
teledyn
4 / 5 (1) Apr 30, 2014
I've read that some literary scholars believe Enkidu, the wild man of the Epic of Gilgamesh, may have been among the last of the Neanderthal people, and that the Giant they sought and killed together may have been yet another species of Man, but one they felt was deserving extinction for the good of both peoples.
adave
1 / 5 (4) Apr 30, 2014
Robert E. Lee was a short man with long legs. Look at a picture from the cival war USA. I have a friend related to him that does not have a waist as his hip bones are up to his lower ribs. The lower front of his ribs are in a round arc and not the V of a modern human. He has a unibrow. His face and skull is a cross between Neanderthal and human. He has never broken a bone and can run long distances without strain. The tall hip bones allow for different muscle arrangment. He didn't know he was different. I showed him an article and said "They are your relatives." It explained a lot why his behavior didn't fit most of the people he knew. They do show up in our genes. Once the ancient Neanderthal family was destroyed it required the offspring to adapt to human behavior. The language of humans can be seen in their lack of storyboard art. It reflects their style of thought. A mostly silent creative mind with minimal vocals. See how man changed 10,000 years ago.
someone11235813
not rated yet Apr 30, 2014
"It would be like comparing the performance of Model T Fords, widely used in America and Europe in the early part of the last century, to the performance of a modern-day Ferrari and conclude that Henry Ford was cognitively inferior to Enzo Ferrari."


Based on that I'd conclude that Enzo Ferrari was cognitively inferior
kelman66
not rated yet May 01, 2014
They didnt die out, we absorbed them.
Modernmystic
1.6 / 5 (8) May 01, 2014
They are here too! Neandertals were among our ancestors, they didn't go extinct in that sense anymore than pure bred AMHs did. (Oh, well, the minority which is Africans. And it turns out they too have some ancestral subspecies inbreeding, confirmed now. =D)


Well I guess the Dinosaurs are still here too....and trilobites because we share DNA with them as well. Let's be clear here;

http://www.merria.../extinct

Show me a Neanderthal or kindly use English properly, words do actually mean something. Thanks.
ThomasQuinn
4 / 5 (4) May 01, 2014
They are here too! Neandertals were among our ancestors, they didn't go extinct in that sense anymore than pure bred AMHs did. (Oh, well, the minority which is Africans. And it turns out they too have some ancestral subspecies inbreeding, confirmed now. =D)


Well I guess the Dinosaurs are still here too....and trilobites because we share DNA with them as well. Let's be clear here;

http://www.merria.../extinct

Show me a Neanderthal or kindly use English properly, words do actually mean something. Thanks.


Do you ever wonder why you get so many 1-star votes?
someone11235813
not rated yet May 01, 2014
Bits of Neanderthal DNA are in H. sapiens DNA so in a sense that still live on.
Egleton
1 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
Sapiens chauvinisim.
Brain/body weight ratio, my left elbow.
Brains are expensive organs. Organisms get by with the smallest brain possible. Therefore the animal with the biggest brain on this planet, the Sperm Whale has the smallest brain possible. What does he use it for?
Hint: It is not for cooling the blood.
What do we use them for? Food.
We are the Monsters from the Swamp.
It is so embarassing.
orti
1 / 5 (3) May 01, 2014
"These findings imply that Neanderthals could plan ahead, communicate as a group and make efficient use of their surroundings, the authors said."
So do lions. These researcher's findings are more speculative than those they criticize. I think their comments show academia's enamor with their current fad – multiculturalism – than any kind of science.
Rute
4.8 / 5 (4) May 01, 2014
I wonder if there was some nasty disease that the anatomically modern humans gave to Neanderthals and hastened their extinction. After all, there have been numerous cases of modern human encounters where a population with no immunity to a potentially dangerous disease has suffered greatly with the arrival of another population carrying such a disease. One well known example would be when Europeans brought smallpox to America.
Modernmystic
2 / 5 (4) May 01, 2014


Do you ever wonder why you get so many 1-star votes?


Not at all :) Is popularity important to you? That would be an interesting discussion to get your perspective on that.

I wasn't making a philosophical statement. I was stating a scientific fact. They ARE extinct....period. If Mr. Larsson wants to have that philosophical debate I'm happy to. I'm simply not going to revise my statement of fact to one of philosophy.

Bits of Neanderthal DNA are in H. sapiens DNA so in a sense that still live on.


So does virtually every species that ever existed, so why do we use the word extinct? What does it mean then?
someone11235813
5 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
So does virtually every species that ever existed, so why do we use the word extinct? What does it mean then?


To be clear, I did not use the word 'extinct'. But for me it means extinct as a species. But as they *directly* interbred with humans in that sense they are still having a direct effect

Of course there are sequences of dna that are there in all living things, some of which have been re assigned difference functions, but I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about the proven fact that neanderthals interbred with modern day humans, which was believed to not be true not very long ago. We share a lot of dna with the great apes but they did not, indeed could not, breed with humans, or neanderthals for that matter.
Modernmystic
1.5 / 5 (2) May 01, 2014
I'm talking about the proven fact that neanderthals interbred with modern day humans, which was believed to not be true not very long ago.


I get that "in a sense" they are having and effect, but so are all those other genes from all those other species that share our lineage (including the apes we can't interbreed with). I don't see why it's important to single out neanderthals.

I also wouldn't say that DNA "lives on" either, I'm not sure DNA is alive.
JVK
1 / 5 (8) May 01, 2014
Ecological variation led to ecological adaptation in every species on this planet. It would be remarkable if the changes in morphology and behavior in our species were not nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled.

http://www.ncbi.n...24693349

I'll try this again from the level of nutrient-dependent one-carbon metabolism across species link to morphological and beahavioral phenotypes. See for example: Nutrition and epigenetics: an interplay of dietary methyl donors, one-carbon metabolism and DNA methylation http://dx.doi.org...2.03.003

If necessary, I can start with quantum physics and biophysical constraints on ecological adaptations, but I've seen no indication here that anyone understands the basic principles of biology or levels of biological organization required to link sensory input to morphology (via food odors) and behavior (via pheromones).
rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (6) May 01, 2014
Ecological variation led to ecological adaptation in every species on this planet. It would be remarkable if the changes in morphology and behavior in our species were not nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled.

http://www.ncbi.n...24693349

If necessary, I can start with quantum physics and biophysical constraints on ecological adaptations, but I've seen no indication here that anyone understands the basic principles of biology or levels of biological organization required to link sensory input to morphology (via food odors) and behavior (via pheromones).


@ JVK You just can't seem to take a hint eh?

Why do you bother? As you have stated repeatedly, ad nauseum, we are just a bunch of idiot minions with no chance of understanding your prescient genius.

Now go away and leave us idiot minions alone. No one here likes you anyhow!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.6 / 5 (5) May 01, 2014
Neanderthal reproduction had most likely become seasonal as are most species living far from the equator. When in competition with the tropical cro mags, neanderthal couldnt replace battle losses fast enough. They were outgrown and overrun, the males killed, the females incorporated. Tropical incursives had everything to gain for their offspring in mating with adapted indigenes. Neanderthal in contrast would risk bearing children who could not withstand the harsh winters.

Did we inherit their propensity for seasonal mating? How old is the june wedding tradition, the may day celebration?
http://en.wikiped...is_Night
Pejico
May 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
JVK
1 / 5 (6) May 01, 2014
Now go away and leave us idiot minions alone.


Reconstructing the DNA Methylation Maps of the Neandertal and the Denisovan
http://www.scienc...abstract

Paabo Svante is co-author of this article, which suggests you have reached the pinnacle of your career as an idiot minion.

"We hope that the differences in methylation discovered here will help to uncover the epigenetic basis for phenotypic differences between present-day and archaic humans and shed light on the role of epigenetics in the recent evolution of our lineage."

Differences in methylation can be traced to ecological variation but nothing else. Thus, all other theories appear to be pseudoscientific nonsense, because of the link from nutrient-dependent one-carbon metabolism to the pheromone-controlled physiology of reproduction in "Nutrition and epigenetics: an interplay of dietary methyl donors, one-carbon metabolism and DNA methylation"
rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (3) May 01, 2014
@ JVK

Reconstructing the DNA Methylation Maps of the Neandertal and the Denisovan
http://www.scienc...abstract

Paabo Svante is co-author of this article, which suggests you have reached the pinnacle of your career as an idiot minion.

No. You just made a false assumption that I even bother reading your posts or links anymore.

I see your name, give you a 1 star, maybe drop a slight or two and move on. You don't even have the sense to realise you're talking to yourself.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) May 02, 2014
You know, I see from the picture that it us assumed that Neanderthal wore clothes. So they must have also been descended from the First Couple, who ate of the cultivated fruit and saw that they were naked, and were ashamed.

The cavemen are our brothers in sin. Their summary Judgement only came a little sooner than our own.
JVK
1 / 5 (4) May 02, 2014
My 2nd comment has been approved and is now live at
http://comments.s....1250368

Nutrient-dependent one-carbon metabolism, DNA methylation, and amino acid
substitutions differentiate cell types in individuals of different species.

See for review: Nutrition and epigenetics: an interplay of dietary methyl
donors, one-carbon metabolism and DNA methylation
http://www.scienc...12000599

Does any biologically based experimental evidence indicate how mutations
initiate changes that could somehow be naturally selected and result in
species diversity? If not, it seems likely that ecological variation results
in ecologically adapted morphological and behavioral phenotypes via
biophysically-constrained nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled one-carbon
metabolism.

If so, we can look again at Darwin's 'conditions of life' and eliminate constraint-breaking mutations from the additions to his theory. We could also add..."
Surly
3.7 / 5 (3) May 02, 2014
As has been explained to you over and over: yes. Some mutations result in structurally different proteins which can perform different functions. Lenski's Cit+ E. coli are the easy example, but there are plenty of others from nylon-eating bacteria on down.

You have no rebuttal for this fact. The closest you've come is arguing that "mutation" should mean something other than a change in DNA sequence. Unfortunately, mutation *means* a change in DNA sequence. You will simply repeat your buzzwords over and over, moderately irritating several people who will give you one-star votes before moving on.
JVK
1 / 5 (4) May 02, 2014
In the mouse-to-human model of mutations, the mutations are linked to cancers, not evolution. In my model, nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled ecological adaptations are manifested in the morphological and behavioral phenotypes of cancer-free tissues.

I don't care if idiot minions like you ever grasp the difference between mutations and evolution compared to one-carbon metabolism, which is linked to base pair changes, DNA methylation, and ecological adaptation. However, in this news article the researchers imply that cancers evolve.

30-year puzzle in breast cancer solved
http://medicalxpr...cer.html

That misrepresentation of biophysically constrained 'normal' cell-type differentiation may prevent others from ever realizing why obesity and breast cancer are closely linked, and why breast cancer runs in families.

Thus, your ridiculous opinions about mutations are contributing to cancer and preventing a cure.
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) May 03, 2014
In the mouse-to-human model of mutations, the mutations are linked to cancers, not evolution
&
your ridiculous opinions about mutations are contributing to cancer and preventing a cure
@jvk
so you are saying all mutations are cancerous and or deadly?
In my model, nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled ecological adaptations are manifested in the morphological and behavioral phenotypes of cancer-free tissues
the problem with your model and your post is that YOUR MODEL CAUSES MUTATIONS so your whole comment
I don't care if idiot minions like you ever grasp the difference between mutations and evolution...
only shows that you are the bigger idiot minion. Thanks for continually pointing it out, though... cant show the newbies how pseudoscience works without people like you to continually give live demonstrations
and why are you spamming AAAS now?
JVK
1 / 5 (4) May 03, 2014
FainAvis
not rated yet May 04, 2014
If Neanderthals and AMH were different enough to say they were different species, then the rules for hybridisation should apply. Whether the father was AMH or Neanderthal, the male offspring would be less fertile. Until some backcrossing occurred to restore fertility. So the immediate effect of introducing AMH males is to reduce the number of Neanderthal males by taking the very beautiful Neanderthal wenches:) and also ensuring that she does not have fertile sons. The hybrid daughters soon can only ever find AMH males. By this means genes from Neanderthal pass into AMH, but pure Neanderthal bloodlines go extinct.

Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) May 04, 2014
In the mouse-to-human model of mutations, the mutations are linked to cancers, not evolution
&
your ridiculous opinions about mutations are contributing to cancer and preventing a cure
@jvk
considering your "model" also causes mutations, then your model also causes cancer, per your own words.
remember? I asked
DOES your model make any changes to the nucleotide sequence of the genome of an organism, virus, or extrachromosomal genetic element?
This is a yes or no answer
to which you answered
YES!
--Thanks for asking. If it didn't, there could be no increased organismal-level thermoregulation in species from microbes to man via alterations in hydrogen bonds (glucose & glucose dehydrogenase interactions). Obviously, you must first break the bonds before they can be strengthened
IOW -your model CAUSES MUTATIONS! http://phys.org/n...lts.html

your "model" is a small part of evolution, sparky. get used to it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2014
Say jvk what happens if individuals in a species do not change their diets? Does that species cease to evolve?

What was it that humans were eating during the Pleistocene that caused our brains to double in size in a very short period of time? Apparently we were the only species eating it because we haven't seen this sort of thing in any other species besides our own.
rockwolf1000
not rated yet May 09, 2014
It seems, the history just repeats itself. The pale large brained Neanderthals were wiped out and interbred with dumber and less advanced but more adaptive immigrants from outside of Europe. This is what the globalization is called today.


So where is it you hail from?
JVK
1 / 5 (2) May 09, 2014
In my model, it is the nutrient-dependent microRNA/messenger RNA balance that enables cell type differentiation. Researchers recently discovered how a difference in a specific microRNA is linked to cancer.

http://digitaljou...e/382091

Meanwhile, we see reports like this one: http://dx.doi.org...omms4742
"Mutation rate has long been appreciated as a fundamental factor in evolutionary genetics."
This misrepresentation can be attributed to reports on Lenski's experiments and the ignorance of biologically- based cause and effect displayed here and everywhere else by evolutionary theorists.

"Resistance emerged with as few as 100 bacteria in the initial inoculation." http://www.scienc...abstract

Taken together, we now have theorists who are horribly under-informed and who will never understand anything about ecological adaptations because they believe in mutation-driven evolution