The Continuing Story of Neandert(h)al Man:
Book Review Essay
Stringer, C. & C. Gamble (1993) In Search of the Neanderthals:
Solving the Puzzle of Human Origins (London: Thames &
pp. 247, ISBN 0-500-05070-8).
Tattersall, Ian (1995) The Last Neanderthal: The Rise, Success, and
Mysterious Extinction of Our Closest Human Relatives (New York:
Macmillan, pp. 208, ISBN 0-02-860813-5).
Trinkaus, E. & P. Shipman (1993) The Neandertals: Changing the
Image of Mankind (New York: Knopf, pp. 454, ISBN 0-394-58900-
by Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Center of Peace and Conflict Studies,
University of Groningen, the Netherlands. E-mail:
Tattersall's book is the latest in a recent revival of Neandert(h)al studies,
together with Trinkaus & Shipman (1993), Stringer & Gamble
(1993), and Shreeve (1995; Shreeve's book is of a different caliber, however,
and will not be covered in this review). The study of the Neandert(h)als is, to
a great extent, a study of controversies, of stereotypes and popular prejudices,
more or less hilarious and/or ludicrous misunderstandings, and, as will be
seen, widely divergent extinction scenarios.
In August of 1856 - three years before the publication of Darwin's On
Origin of Species - German laborers in search of lime blasted out the
entrance to a small cave (the Feldhofer grotto) that lay high on the sheer wall of
the Neander Valley (in German Neander T(h)al [The
composer Joachim Neumann gave the classicized version of his surname to the
valley]), near Düsseldorf, Germany, through which the Düssel
river meanders to join the Rhine(1). Within the cave the workers
exhumed a skullcap like none ever seen before: long and low, with a pair of
ridges arching over the now-vanished eye sockets. Nearby they excavated some
bones from the body of the same heavily fossilized and very robustly built
individual. The workers did not think anything much of these finds, assuming
them to be the bones of a cave bear; but by great good fortune they set at least
some of them aside for eventual examination by the local schoolteacher and
amateur natural historian Johann Fuhlrott. Fuhlrott, to his eternal credit, had
the insight to recognize them for what they were: the remains of a previously
unknown type of human. Fuhlrott took the finds to Hermann Schaaffhausen,
professor of anatomy at the University of Bonn, and after a preliminary
announcement by Schaaffhausen, the pair presented the Neanderthaler
('Neanderthal Man') to the world at a meeting of the local natural history
society in June 1857.
This was the first evidence of a distinct (and now extinct) species or
subspecies of human, Homo (sapiens) neanderthalensis, that
lived during the later part of the Pleistocene epoch, more familiarly known as
the Ice Age, some 200,000 to 30,000 years ago. Sites at which (by now
abundant) Neandert(h)al fossils have been found are distributed in Europe and
western Asia from the Atlantic in the west to Uzbekistan in the east, and from
Wales in the north to Gibraltar and the Levant in the south.
Most palaeoanthropologists, according to Stringer & Gamble (1993, p.
65) accept that the Neandert(h)als evolved from European middle Pleistocene
ancestors who were either a late form of Homo erectus or a
descendant of that species. This would be either Homo
heidelbergensis or 'archaic' Homo sapiens.
The German orthography of the word valley (Thal) changed
early in the 20th century to Tal, giving rise to two different
versions of the spelling 'Neanderthal' and 'Neandertal'. For the sake of
convenience, and to avoid unnecessary repetitions, I shall use the 'modern'
orthography in this review.
A Cossack with rickets
Schaaffhausen came tantalizingly close to an evolutionary perspective on his
fossils, but in 1857 the time was not yet ripe for the suggestion that the
Neandertaler was anything other than an inferior or 'savage' version of our
own species. As Tattersall relates the hilarious story (pp. 77-78):
"Unfortunately, the heavy guns were not on Schaaffhausen's side. In Germany
the life sciences were dominated at the time by Rudolf Virchow, the father of
the modern study of cell biology and a doughty opponent of evolutionary
thought in all its manifestations.
Virchow's specialty was pathology, and pathology provided the explanation he
preferred for the unusual appearance of the Neanderthaler. To Virchow, here
were the remains of an ordinary human being cursed with a particularly
unfortunate affliction, so he heartily endorsed the conclusions reached by
Schaaffhausen's colleague on the Bonn faculty, Professor August Mayer - the
very August Mayer who has gone down in history as the author of perhaps the
most imaginative scenario ever dreamt up in the long history of human
Mayer's examination of the bones from the Feldhofer cave suggested several
things to him. He noted, for example, that the thigh bones and the upper front
part of the pelvis were somewhat curved, as in lifelong horsemen. These
characteristics, he claimed, might also have been exaggerated by childhood
rickets, a vitamin deficiency disease. The left arm had been fractured and had
healed badly; and Mayer claimed that this injury was the key to the unusual
shape of the skull: it was the constant frown brought on by the pain of the
injury that had caused the formation of the bony ridges above the eyes! Putting
all the evidence together, Mayer proposed that the remains were those of an
unfortunate deserter from the Cossack cavalry that has paused near the Rhine
in January of 1814, before proceeding onward to attack France".
William King (already in 1863), Hermann Klaatsch, Marcellin Boule (1912; see
also Hammond, 1982) and Arthur Keith (1912, 1928) argued that Neandertals
were too brutally apish to be a part of our own (modern human) ancestry. Boule
thus classified them as a separate species - Homo
rather than as a subspecies of Homo sapiens: Homo
Beetle-browed, bent-kneed, sloping-necked, shuffling slouches with grasping
feet and inferior brains, brutish and sluggish hominids; this familiar and
long- standing stereotype of the Neandertals was started by Julien Fraipont and
Lohest, who studied the skeletons from the Belgian site of Spy
de Biologie, 7, 1887), but advocated most vociferously by Marcellin
Boule (Les hommes fossiles, 1912).
Upon examining the remains of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neandertal from France,
also known as the 'old man' of La Chapelle-aux-Saints, Boule declared that these hominids were unintelligent due to their low-browed brains and that the only thing they could
produce was their crude tools and not much else. Boule also believed that "the beast had walked with bent knees and a shambling gait, his head slung forward on a squat neck, his big toe splayed out chimpanzee-like to the side" (Shreeve, 1994:18). (Of course, later we would learn that this was wrong and that Boule's prejudices got in the way of his examination of the elderly hominid. Actually, the specimen he examined was crippled and extremely arthritic, which Boule somehow managed to overlook).
For those who held the view of human linear progress from savagery, through
barbarism, to civilization, such as de Mortillet, Lubbock, Morgan, Tylor,
among many others, "the Neandertals and other prehistoric humans were
simply fitted into preexisting stages, pigeonholed for reference, and used to
reinforce the 'evolutionary' view of human history and progress. This is most
wonderfully illustrated by what is probably the first artistic depiction of a
Neandertal, a drawing that appeared on the front page of July 19, 1873,
Harper's Weekly... A more ferocious-looking, gorilla-like
being can hardly be imagined" (Trinkaus & Shipman, 1993, pp. 108-
Neandertal man according to Boule
Stringer & Gamble (1993) present various pictorial and statuary
reconstructions of Neandertal men and women, illustrating how widely these
can differ: from ape-like, hairy, brutish and ferocious creatures to a somewhat
stockily-built contemporary human (pp. 19-23 and 28-29). Carleton Coon's
very human-looking 1939 portrait put the Chappelle-aux-Saints individual into
modern dress and gave him a shave and a hair cut, suggesting that he could
pass unnoticed in the New York City subway.
Cave bear cults?
Between 1917 and 1921, the amateur archaeologist Emil Bächler,
excavated the Drachenloch (Dragon's Cave) site in the Churfirsten Mountains
of Switzerland. No Neandertal fossils were found there, but the Mousterian
tools associated with them were, along with what Bächler considered to
be evidence of Neandertal ritual activity. Inside the cave were found the
remains of many cave bears, Ursus spelaeus: huge beasts that
became extinct some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. To Bächler there was
something special about the way in which these bones were disposed, and he
started the notion of Neandertal 'bear cults' (recently - once again -
popularized by Jane Auel's novel The Clan of the Cave Bear),
with bears the subject of worship or other ritual activities that maybe included
deliberate sacrifice, and that must surely have involved some kind of feeling
for the spiritual. Perhaps not surprisingly, reports of similar presumed
behaviors began to trickle in from other sites - and exotic customs of this kind
meshed well, of course, with the darker side of Neandertal nature as
exemplified by Gorjanovic-Kramberger's (1906; see below) alleged
"To a scientific milieu that was still trying to come to grips with the
Neanderthal phenomenon, there must also have been a certain comfort in the
contemplation of a deeply human spiritual awareness in combination with
'primitive' rituals such as those envisaged by Bächler. Familiar yet
unfamiliar: these behaviors perfectly matched the equivocally human
morphology of the Neanderthals. More-recent work, however, has shown that
the reality of the bone acumulations of the Drachenloch was almost certainly
much more prosaic than the picture Bächler painted" (Tattersall, p. 95).
Rowley-Conwy (1993) gives as contemporary verdict: "a chance arrangement
[of bones] magnified by wishful thinking".
In 1939 Guattari Cave on Monte Circeo, Italy, yielded stone tools and a skull
of a rather heavily built Neandertal from the last glacial (about 50 thousand
years old). What made this particular specimen a cause
célèbre, though, was less the fossil itself than the
supposed context. The original discovery had been made accidentally, by a
workman, in almost complete darkness, and the skull - one of many bones
lying on the cave floor - had been picked up and replaced on the ground by
the time the paleontologist Alberto Blanc was called in. A reconstruction by
Blanc showed the cranium lying inverted, a gaping hole in its base pointing
straight up, within a 'crown of stones'.
"Ignoring the fact that the cave floor was covered with stones and bones, and
that here was no certainty about exactly where the skull had come from, Blanc
built on the tradition of Krapina [Gorjanovic-Kramberger, 1906] and the
Drachenloch to spring to the conclusion that the Guattari skull represented the
remains of a cannibal feast. The individual had been killed by a blow to the
right side of the head; the head had been severed from the body and placed
upside down in a ring of stones; the skull base had been broken open to
extract the brain (exactly as the anatomist Franz Weidenreich had suggested
had happened to the Peking Man skulls from Zhoukoudian): the empty
braincase had been used as a drinking cup before being replaced on the floor;
and the broken animal bones scattered around the cave had accumulated as a
result of further sacrifices associated with this bizarre cannibalistic ritual. We
know now that Guattari Cave was in fact an ancient hyena den, and that the
Neanderthal skull was simply one more of the numerous mammal bones with
which it was littered" (p. 101).
Actually, the claim that Neandertals were cannibals is far much older and
based on a tragic misunderstanding. Trinkaus & Shipman (1993, pp. 104-
5) tell this story as follows:
"In his writings about La Naulette [a Belgian cave discovered in 1866],
Dupont explicitly denied an extraordinary claim about the Neandertal fossils
that had never yet been made (in print): that they were the remains of a
cannibalistic feast. He argued that the fossils were naturally broken and
located within a cave but were not associated with worked stones or hearths -
items for which he deliberately searched. For all his care, he uncovered only
broken animal bones and the three human bones. Perhaps he was indirectly
responding to the charge of cannibalism that has been raised before, by a
Monsieur Spring, who was writing of the more modern finds at Chauvaux,
Belgium. Spring had found shattered human and animal bones mixed together
in hearths and took this as logical evidence that both animals and humans had
been treated as food. But Dupont's finds did not include such
Bizarrely, the claim that Neandertals were cannibals started here - with a case
that particularly did not suggest cannibalism - and has
lingering about Neandertal remains like a poisonous miasma, until the present
day. A purported summary of Dupont's findings, written in English by C.
Carter Blake , stated that Dupont believed the La Naulette remains
showed evidence of cannibalism. Was it mistranslation, misunderstanding, or
carelessness? Then, in 1930, Ales Hrdlicka, a physical anthropologist at the
Smithsonian, again attributed to Dupont the claim that the La Naulette remains
showed signs of cannibalism".
The contemporary verdict is that the alleged evidence of Neandertal
cannibalism can be interpreted as the result of mortuary practices (as at
Krapina) or carnivore activity (as at Monte Circeo) (Bahn, 1992).
During the 1950s new Neandertal discoveries continued to come in, helping to
fill out the more modern-human-like picture painted by Clark Howell and
Loring Brace, among others (as a reaction to the former more 'bestial'
In 1955, independently, both the Swiss primatologist Adolph Schultz and the
French palaeontologist Camille Arambourg stated explicitly that the
Neandertals must have walked fully upright. They were vindicated in 1957,
when Straus & Cave published a detailed reanalysis of the La
Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton, which appeared to show the symptoms of
Between 1953 and 1957 the Columbia University archaeologist Ralph Solecki
excavated the cave of Shanidar, in northern Iraq, recovering the remains of
nine adult and juvenile Neandertals. One of the skeletons was that of an adult
male who had suffered, perhaps since birth, from a disease that withered his
right arm. Solecki pointed out that this disadvantaged individual could not
have survived to a relatively advanced age without the active and long-term
support of his social group. Suddenly the Neandertals became caring and
humane, as well as spiritually aware. This new Neandertal persona was made
yet more compelling by the discovery of fossil pollen that suggested the
individual had been buried with spring flowers. The subtitle that Solecki later
chose for his popular book on Shanidar, The First Flower
eloquently reflects how dramatically the Neandertal image was changing
(Tattersall, p. 107). "Coming as it did on the heels of the destruction of
Boule's apish Neandertal and the construction of a new, improved, and more
human Neandertal anatomy, Solecki's view of Neandertals as human, humane,
compassionate, and caring was accepted widely and with remarkably little
demur" (Trinkaus & Shipman, 1993, p. 341). Lately, however, this
'new' Neandertal persona, again, has been drawing heavy flak. Given the
complexities of cave deposits, Rowley-Conwy (1993) argued, the pollen in the
Shanidar 'flower burials' could have got there in various ways - indeed, even
during the archaeological excavation. With two possible exceptions, there is
hardly any evidence of Neandertal burials, or that they had a religion or
believed in an afterlife: "It is not impossible that what we see is the simple
disposal of dead bodies, and that nothing more complex was ever
So, neither the image of H. neanderthalensis as a
as a worshipper of cave bears, nor as a flower child, nor as a bent-kneed
slouch has withstood the test of time and the accumulating evidence. What
about the end, Tattersall's 'mysterious extinction', of the Neandertals?
Over the years the two camps, one favoring regional continuity, and the other
population replacement, have labelled themselves and each other with a variety
of names and sobriquets. The regional continuity hypothesis is also called the
'candelabra model' or 'multiregional evolution' or 'the single species
hypothesis' (with proponents Ales Hrdlicka, Franz Weidenreich, Carleton
Coon, Loring Brace, Milford Wolpoff, Erik Trinkaus and Pat Shipman -
among others); the population replacement hypothesis is also known as 'Out of
Africa' or 'Noah's Ark' (with advocates Marcellin Boule, Henri Vallois,
William Howells, Peter Andrews, Chris Stringer, Clive Gamble, and Ian
Tattersall - though opinions differ whether this replacement was peaceful or
violent). See also: Graves (1991), Bräuer & Smith (1992),
Burenhult (1993), and Shreeve (1995).
Trinkaus & Shipman (1993) explicitly favor the Continuity-hypothesis:
"To us, the fossils indicate that the earliest modern humans evolved out of
Neandertals (or out of late archaic peoples very like them) soon after
Neandertals had themselves appeared, about 100,000 years ago. This was not
an evolutionary event that happened simultaneously across the entire
Neandertal range" (p. 414), the authors state in a chapter modestly entitled:
The Current View.
"Though the evidence in different regions of the Old World records genuinely
different events, nowhere is there evidence for violent confrontations between
Neandertals and modern humans (myths notwithstanding). The mosaic of local
evolution, migration, admixture, absorption, or local extinction of Neandertals
was a complex process that occurred over the last 10,000 years"
Anatomically, Trinkaus & Shipman argue, "the Neandertals are quite
similar to ourselves, having a skeletal arrangement identical to ours, brains as
large as ours, and - to the best of our knowledge - the capability to perform
any act normally within the ability of a modern human" (p. 412).
Tattersall's view is quite different. "Weaving together the archaeological and
fossil evidence with the lessons of evolutionary theory, Dr. Tattersall draws
on our latest knowledge about how Neanderthals evolved and lived to solve
the riddle of how they died. He presents convincing evidence to demonstrate
quite conclusively that Neanderthals were killed off by invading Homo
sapiens in the first known instance of human genocide".
This is the claim of the cover text, and Tattersall can probably not be held
responsible for this pretentious arrogance. Indeed, the real text (on page 202)
reads a lot more carefully-formulated, modest, and 'maybe-ish':
"It is vanishingly unlikely, however, that peaceful assimilation was an overall
option, with groups of the two kinds of humans [the resident Homo
neanderthalensis and the invading Homo sapiens
or Cro-Magnons] exchanging members when they met and going their separate
ways, or joining forces. More likely, perhaps, if intermixing is to be
at all, is a scenario of well-equipped and cunning Homo
descending on Neanderthal groups, killing the males - through strategy and
guile, certainly not through strength - and abducting the females".
Remarkable in this context is that Tattersall does not even mention or consider
the possibility of a more peaceful displacement scenario (as envisaged by
Graham Richards and Stringer & Gamble), or a continuity scenario (as
suggested by Trinkaus & Shipman). The more remarkable because (1)
Neandertal mass graves or other evidence of massacres and/or large-scale
killings has never been found (as Richards correctly observed), and (2)
Neandertal females would hardly have been of much reproductive value to
the invading H. sapiens sapiens, as Tattersall himself admits,
because it is highly improbable that viable offspring could have been produced
by the resulting unions of these rather different species(4).
It was during the fluctuating climates of 45,000-30,000 years ago that
anatomically modern humans (Cro-Magnons) seemingly arrived in Europe and
must have coexisted with the last Neandertals. Would the Cro-Magnons have
acted as 'Killer Africans' (to use Milford Wolpoff's choice phrase) and wiped
out the Neandertals they encountered? According to Boule, Bigelow, Birdsell,
Cioffi-Revilla, Claiborne, Bailey, Diamond, Gat, Klaatsch, Wendt, and Tattersall
(as well as fiction writers such as H.G. Wells in The Grisly Folk) the
Cro-Magnons indeed did exactly that: exterminate the poor Neandertals, as befits
evolutionarily 'dead-ends' (Quite unlike his subtitle suggests, there is nothing mysterious to
Tattersall about the extinction of the Neandertals).
But Stringer & Gamble (1993, pp. 193-4) present a much less
bloodthirsty and gloomy replacement scenario:
"In an area as large as Europe, with its varied environments and over a
timespan of perhaps 10 millennia, many different kinds of interactions could
have occurred (and probably did occur), ranging from avoidance to tolerance
to interbreeding, and from conflict and economic competition to friendhip and
an exchange of ideas... [Very probably] there was minimal gene flow
(interbreeding) between the two populations [because of] predominantly
behavioral barriers that kept them distinct from one another...
If the Cro-Magnons became more skilled at coping with and exploiting the
European environments than the Neanderthals, the Cro-Magnon populations
and ranges would have increased. With only finite resources, the Neanderthals
would have suffered from economic competition unless they withdrew to more
marginal areas (such as, in this context, the southern Iberian and northern
British peninsulae). If the Cro-Magnons occupied the more favourable and
sheltered lowland valleys, the Neanderthals would have had to occupy higher
or less-sheltered ground. In a normal summer this would have posed them few
problems, but in more inclement weather their populations would have been
put under severe stress. They would have suffered from higher infant
mortality rates and shorter lifespans. Repeated across various parts of Europe
and over many centuries or even millennia, this attrition would probably have
caused Neanderthal populations gradually to decline toward extinction.
In fact, using a computer-simulated model, archaeologist Ezra Zubrow has
shown how rapidly the Neanderthals could have become extinct. Assuming
interaction between stable populations of Neanderthals and Moderns, a
Neanderthal mortality rate only 2 per cent higher than that of the Moderns
could have resulted in Neanderthal extinction within about 1,000
Biological replacement does not, therefore, imply genocide of the Neandertals.
The Neandertals probably went with a whimper rather than a bang. The fate
of the Neandertals as envisaged by Stinger & Gamble was one of
gradual displacement to more marginal and less favorable environments rather
than defeat in some sort of territorial battle.
As Richards (1987) makes clear: "At one time dramatic genocidal massacres
were envisaged, but no evidence exists for this, no caches of dozens of bones
of Neanderthals slain in battle, and on balance the study of sites like
Arcy-sur-Cure goes against it. The demise was likely to have been a more
long-drawn out affair, piecemeal, mosaic, in character, with attitudes towards
the Neanderthals among Moderns varying across the spectrum as widely as they
do on most subjects today, and perhaps vice versa".
Also Haywood (1995) endorses the replacement scenario: "The Neanderthals
lived side by side with the newcomers for around 12,000 years before
extinct, so it is unlikely that they were the victims of a campaign of genocide...
There must have been at least some peaceful contacts between the two groups,
as some Neanderthals adopted new toolmaking techniques from the
The most likely scenario is that the newcomers progressively outcompeted the
Gat (1999) presents a refined form of the extermination scenario. He reasoned
that Homo sapiens sapiens maintained regional ('tribal') group ties,
whereas the Neandertals had no such ties or had much weaker ones. This would
have been an overwhelming power advantage and a decisive numerical
superiority over the much smaller and isolated Neandertal local groups.
"No out-and-out-massacre is suggested, though some massacres probably took
place. If the Neanderthals were increasingly pushed out into more marginal and
harsher environments, where they progressively went extinct, this was probably
done by force. However, the use of violence was in all likelihood much more
frequently covert than overt. Again we may learn this from the pattern of
hostilities among historical aboriginal humans (and within other species). Hostile
demonstration to keep rivals and competitors away or convince them to retreat is
by far more common than the deadly encounter itself. Deterrence, which is of
course underpinned by the implied and actual use of force, is much more
widespread than actual deadly violence. Applying this pattern to the Middle to
Upper Palaeolithic transition, the far larger size of Homo sapiens sapiens'
groups may have been in itself sufficient to persuade the Neanderthals to
withdraw when showdowns over hunting and foraging territories would occur, as
they inevitably did with the newcomers' arrival. The larger group's superior
force prevailed in a clash when demonstration and deterrence failed, as they
occasionally must have... Needless to say, other forms of interaction between the
Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons may also have taken place across the highly
diverse geographical and time span of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic
transition, including peaceful and even co-operative interactions. This admixture
is in the nature of inter-group relations, and is evident in any successful human
colonization. The predominance of hostile demonstration and deterrence in the
conflictual situation (backed by the actual use of force) may contribute to
explaining the scarcity of archaeological evidence for violent confrontations
between the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons" (Gat, 1999: 446-7).
Besides the direct conflict, the direct expropriation of resources, the
withdrawal to increasingly peripheral regions, and the interbreeding scenarios,
there is one more hypothesis to be mentioned: Deadly diseases introduced by
Homo sapiens sapiens to which the Neandertals (long isolated
due to the climate) were not immune. This is what happened to various
indigenous populations upon the arrival of Europeans: e.g., the Amazonians,
the Eskimos, and the American Indians (Angela & Angela, 1993, p.
246; Diamond, 1997).
How did the Neandertals react to the advance and expansion of these
anatomically modern humans? Artifacts found in various parts of Europe show
that the Neandertals had started to modify their tools. The encounter with the
Cro-Magnons, the realization that their tools were more efficient, and perhaps
the competition drove the Neandertals to borrow more modern technology. In
France, the 'innovative' results are called Châtelperronian; in Italy,
Uluzzian; in Western Europe, Szeletian.
Whichever scenario - absorption, gradual replacement, or annihilation - is true,
the Neandertals were in decline by 35,000 years ago. The last group held out in
Spain (the Iberian cul de sac) until about 28,000 (or maybe even 27,000 as a recent
find at Zafarraya in Spain suggests; Foley, 2001) years ago.
The recently published radiocarbon dating conducted by Fred Smith, Erik Trinkaus and their
colleagues (Smith et al., 1999), however, found that the two Neandertal individuals from the
Croatian site of Vindija are only 28,000 and 29,000 years old. This revised date of extinction -
if valid - stretches the period of coexistence considerably.
Some concluding remarks
The story of the discovery and vicissitudes of Neandertal Man has been told in
more detail by Trinkaus & Shipman (1993), and/or more eloquently by
Stringer & Gamble (1993). What has Tattersall to add? Mainly the
graphic material (high-quality color photographs and sublime art work),
although the story of the Neandertals, as told by Tattersall, is captivating by
itself. The visual documentation of the Neandertal fossil material, their
environment and artifacts, is of sublime quality, excellent and
Tattersall, more than the other authors on hominid evolution, also gives a
prominent place in the human family tree to Homo ergaster
Homo heidelbergensis as direct ancestral forms of both
neandert(h)alensis and H. sapiens.
So the three recent books overlap to a great extent, but their conclusions about
the end of the Neandertals are widely divergent: one proposes a continuity
theory (Trinkaus & Shipman, 1993), one pictures a gradual and rather
peaceful replacement scenario (Stringer & Gamble, 1993), and one paints
a genocidal bloody demise of the hapless Neandertals (Tattersall, 1995). This
last conclusion is, however, neither novel (Boule already proposed this
scenario in 1912) nor very probable in view of the lack of evidence.
Shupp (1998), in a major synthesis of the material, sketches the following
1. I think we can discard the notion of an anatomically modern human [AMH]
Westen which eliminated the Neandertals. The rapid spread of the
seems most easily explained by the assumption that modern humans were
Europe, presumably in small numbers, at some point before the creation of a
modern human culture. Until that happened, as in Spain, AMHs lived like
left archaeological remains identified as Mousterian.
2. Early modern humans in Europe probably lived at close contact with
formed alliances with Neandertals. Their relatively small numbers left no
alternative to this
and we have no reason to believe it was accompanied by any particular
3. The question of whether anatomically modern humans or Neandertals
Paleolithic culture is a moot point. The advance was made together and was
4. At some point, in some places, alliances between anatomically modern
Neandertals were sundered. It may be such alliances are innately unstable; it is
simpler to assume rising population levels made it possible for one side or both
without assistance from the other. If Neandertal-AMH pairings were infertile,
this would be a
strong incentive to create new alliances.
5. By 40,000 BP, anatomically modern humans throughout the world
Neandertals by a large margin. They may have had a higher birthrate; they
on small diets - the causes are immaterial. What matters is that a larger
population would have
produced more new ideas and techniques, which would be disseminated through
alliances, and which increasingly benefited other AMHs rather than
6. Rising population probably led to depletion of the herds on which both
species fed, leading
to some degree of tension between alliances. Alliance promoting factors such as
language and private religion would have increased the tension. Note that this
does not specify
tension between AMHs and Neandertals; it would have existed, but there was
tension between groups of AMHs and between groups of Neandertals as
7. This tension led to occasional violence, increasing the importance of
8. As the numerically smaller population, food shortages had more of an impact
Neandertals. For the same reason, Neandertals formed smaller alliances, over
distances, than AMHs.
9. Smaller alliances were the natural prey of larger alliances, infrequently
violence, more often - unconsciously - via depletion of resources. The result was
pressure upon the Neandertals (and upon smaller AMH alliances).
10. Eventually the post-Mousterian Neandertal cultures were extinct. Eventually
Neandertals were extinct.
The importance of alliances did not diminish at this point, however, nor did the
differentiation that was a product of the alliances. A pattern had been
would only be strengthened during the coming glacial period.
The process described lasted as much as ten thousand years, and there was
probably never a
point where anatomically modern humans felt they were at "war" with the
Neanderthal Predation Theory
Vendramini (2009) presented an interesting new theory about Neanderthal extinction and early modern human (EMH) anatomy and behavior, summarized as follows:
Based on a reassessment of Neanderthal behavioral ecology, a theory of human origins is proposed in conjunction with a narrative account of recent human evolution. 'Neanderthal predation theory' argues that the emergence of behaviorally modern humans was the consequence of systemic Neanderthal predation of Middle Paleolithic humans in the East Mediterranean Levant between 100 and 45 Kya. The hypothesis proposes sexual predation, lethal raiding and coalitionary killing by Eurasian Neanderthals gradualistically depleted the early modern human population in the Levant, precipitating a population bottleneck. Sexual predation generated robust selection in Levantine early humans for adaptations such as concealed ovulation, private copulation, menstrual synchrony, habitual washing, scent concealment, mate guarding, enforced female fidelity, incest avoidance, romantic love and long-term pair bonding, while lethal raiding and coalitionary killing generated selection pressure for 'strategic adaptations' including cognitive fluidity, male aggression, language capacity, creativity (related to projectile and other weapons systems) athleticism, central nervous system robusticity, enhanced semantic memory, group loyalty, male risk-taking, capacity to form strategic coalitions, guile, conjectural reasoning and manual dexterity. It is argued the strategic phenotypes fixed by genetic drift during the Levantine population bottleneck constituted a speciation event. The new anti-Neanderthal species - Homo sapiens sapiens - agonistically replaced Neanderthals and Neanderthal-human hybrids, firstly in the Levant, then progressively throughout Europe and western Asia. Throughout the Holocene, by a multi-selectional process of infanticide, homicide, and genocide (artificial selection) and the preferential selection of non-Neanderthal traits (sexual selection) Cro-Magnon males progressively eradicated all overt vestiges of Neanderthal morphological and behavioral characteristics from the human genome, thus consolidating modern human anatomy and behavior.
(1). Bichakjian (1997) relates this story as follows: "The cave where the remains
were found was called Feldhofer, but it is the surrounding valley that gave its
name to the fossil. Actually it is the valley of the Düssel - a minor
tributary river which from the east flows into the Rhine at the height of the city
of Düsseldorf - but it had already been renamed the Neander Valley after
a seventeenth-century rector of the Düsseldorf Latin School who had
celebrated the picturesque beauty of the gorge. This classics teacher was born
Joachim Neumann, but in the grand humanist tradition had hellenized his last
name into Neander, and Fate was to carry this word into palaeontology,
associating with her characteristic sense of irony a Greek word meaning 'new
man' with hominids that became extinct 30 000 years ago.
But historical events were to interfere again. When the fossils were found, the
word for 'valley' was written Thal, but in 1901 the Second
Orthographical Conference changed it to Tal. Since then the
name has had two alternative spellings - an orthographic situation foretelling
perhaps the difficult choice between two alternative classifications".
(2). A few months after publication of this article (1997) the taxonomical fate of
Neandertal Man seems to be definitively sealed. On the basis of molecular
studies conducted on mitochondrial DNA extracted from the original
Neandertal Man, a team of scientists, headed by Svante Pääbo
and including Mark Stoneking (once a co-worker of the late Allan Wilson,
whose team proposed the Out-of-Africa Theory), has provided what seems to
be the definitive answer (Krings et al., 1997; Kahn & Gibbons, 1997; see also Schillaci
& Froehlich, 2001). The Neandertals are not members of our species; they should not be
classified as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, but as Homo
neanderthalensis (as was already suggested by Tattersall in a 1986 paper; see
Mitochondrial DNA from a second Neandertal specimen (a baby from Mezmaiskaya Cave in
Russia) has been successfully sequenced. Like the first specimen, it is well outside the range
of variation of modern humans (Ovchinnikov et al. 2000, Höss 2000). Analysis of the
of a third Neandertal from Vindija in Croatia also confirms the earlier findings (Krings et al.
2000, Foley, 2001).
Also recent anatomical studies, such as craniofacial (face and skull) variation, do not support the notion of
Neandertals as a subspecies of Homo sapiens (Harvati, 2003).
(3). Recently, however, new evidence of Neandertal anthropophagy seems to
discovered. In a press release by The Associated Press on the Internet dated
1999 (Neanderthal Cannibalism Uncovered), the following story is told:
In a firelit cave in southern France 100,000 years ago, a group of hunters bent
over their meal,
expertly slicing flesh from carcasses and sucking marrow from the bones. But a
examination uncovers a grisly scene: These were Neanderthals, and they
butchered six fellow
people just like they did deer - the first real proof, say scientists, that
cannibalism. Whether some Neanderthals ate their own kind has been a
controversy since the
turn of the century, when Neanderthal bones bearing suspicious scars were
Croatia. Critics argued that maybe those bones had been gnawed by animals, cut
burial ritual or merely damaged by the primitive techniques of 1890s
archaeology. But the
discovery by a team of French and American scientists, who preserved the
cave on the Rhone River like a crime scene and used forensics techniques to
bones, should settle the issue, they say. "This one site has all of the evidence
It's as if somebody put a yellow tape around the cave for 100,000 years and kept
intact," said co-investigator Tim White, a University of California, Berkeley,
"The hominid and deer carcasses were butchered in a similar way, with the
objective being the
removal of soft tissues and marrow," said lead investigator Alban Defleur of the
Université du Mediterrané at Marseilles. This "is clear evidence,"
he wrote in
Friday's edition of the journal Science. Now the question is why these primitive
people - an
evolutionary cousin of modern humans, although most scientists think they are
ancestors - practiced cannibalism. How to determine cannibalism from ancient
bone is tricky.
White published a book in 1992 about cannibalism among Anasazi Indians of
Southwest that concluded certain markings could definitively differentiate bones
consumption from those that were perhaps damaged by a rockslide or broken in
Defleur found 100,000-year-old bone fragments from six Neanderthal skeletons
among piles of animal bones in the Moula-Guercy cave, and sought White's help
investigating. Two marks on a child's skull show how the chewing muscle in
front of the ear
was sliced off the bone by a rough stone tool found in the cave. All skulls were
and limbs defleshed and smashed for their marrow. It is very hard to crack a
fresh femur -
striations from a hammerstone and the stone anvil are visible on one. The marks,
explains, can be identified just like detectives track the gun used in a crime by
marks on the bullet. But how does he know bones were not cut for some bizarre
Identical marks were found on deer bones, and remains of the animals and
were randomly discarded together about the cave. As White put it: "Humans are
You eat the same parts and leave the same traces." "The results are
Lieberman, a George Washington University anthropologist said after reviewing
the study. "I
can't imagine any way you could get this kind of damage to skeletons through
other than intentional defleshing of bones." While some Neanderthals carefully
dead, White said the French cave and scarred bones at other sites suggest
more common among Neanderthals than later humans. Why? It's unclear.
suggest game was not a problem. They may have eaten enemies. Some cultures
cannibalism after a natural death. University of Michigan anthropologist Milford
another theory: They needed fat to get through the cold European winter.
apparently did not store provisions. Meat cannot be digested without enough fat,
either in the
meat or stored in the eater's body, so Neanderthals and their game would be
incredibly lean by
late winter, Wolpoff said. Brains are very high in fat, as is bone marrow.
suggests that in late winter, Neanderthals broke open deers' skulls seeking brains
- and the
Neanderthal skulls and marrow-full limbs all were cracked, too, he said.
the first humans in cold Europe, "and you're looking at what it took to stick it
(4). Recently (April 1999), the interbreeding scenario between the Cro-Magnons
Neanderthals has been revived by the finding of a 24,500-year-old skeleton in
with characteristics found in both early modern humans and Neanderthals, which
shows the two groups interbred and may be ancestors of modern man. The
skeleton of what was likely a 4-year-old boy refutes the widely held theory that
early humans emigrated from Africa and displaced the Neanderthal population
without interbreeding. The prominent chin was characteristic of early modern
humans while the stocky trunk and short limbs reflected its Neanderthal origins,
Trinkaus said. Other arm bones pointed to early modern human parentage. The
hybrid skeleton was the first evidence ever found that populations of early
modern humans and Neanderthals interacted and interbred, Trinkaus said.
"This find refutes strict replacement models of modern human origins - that
early modern humans all emerged from Africa and wiped out the Neanderthal
population," Trinkaus said. "This skeleton, which has some characteristics of
Neanderthals and others of early modern humans, demonstrates that early
humans and Neanderthals are not all that different. They intermixed, interbred
and produced offspring." (see also Duarte et al., 1999; Foley, 2001).
Krause et al. (2010) reported a complete mitochondrial (mt) DNA sequence retrieved from a bone excavated in 2008 in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. It represents a hitherto unknown type of hominin mtDNA that shares a common ancestor with anatomically modern human and Neanderthal mtDNAs about 1.0 million years ago. This indicates that it derives from a hominin migration out of Africa distinct from that of the ancestors of Neanderthals and of modern humans. The stratigraphy of the cave where the bone was found suggests that the Denisova hominin lived close in time and space with Neanderthals as well as with modern humans.
Svante Pääbo's team recently sequenced the Neanderthal genome (see Callaway, 2010). Any human whose ancestral group developed outside Africa has a little Neanderthal in them - between 1 and 4 per cent of their genome, Pääbo's team estimates. In other words, humans and Neanderthals had sex and had hybrid offspring. A small amount of that genetic mingling survives in "non-Africans" today; Neanderthals didn't live in Africa, which is why sub-Saharan African populations have no trace of Neanderthal DNA. The interbreeding must have taken place at least 45,000 years ago, because all non-Africans - be they from France, China or Papua New Guinea - share the same amount of Neanderthal DNA, suggesting that it occurred before those populations split. The timing makes the Middle East the likeliest place where humans leaving Africa and resident Neanderthals interbred (either voluntarily or by force).
The Neanderthals are so closely related that some researchers group them and us as a single species. "I would see them as a form of humans that are bit more different than humans are today, but not much", says Pääbo (Callaway, 2010).
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