December 29, 2008

Anatomically modern humans outcompeted Neanderthals

There have been many Neanderthal stories this year. Here is a list:
  1. Did Cannibalism contribute to Neanderthal extinction?
  2. Archaeology magazine interview with John Hawks
  3. Divergence of modern humans and Neanderthals
  4. FOXP2 and Neanderthals revisited
  5. Complete Neanderthal mtDNA sequence
  6. Neanderthals grew fast, matured later (?)
  7. Reconstruction of female Neanderthal
  8. John Hawks stars in the "Neanderthal Code"!
  9. Neanderthals' trips to the sea in search of food
  10. Neanderthals and the Uluzzian
  11. Why did Neanderthals have broad noses?
  12. The Middle to Upper Paleolithic record of western Eurasia
  13. Belgian Spy Neanderthals 36,000 years BP old
Personally, I am in favor of explanations about Neanderthal demise that involve anatomically modern humans (AMHs), rather than "internal" processes such as #1 in the above list. After all, Neanderthals had been around for tens of thousands of years before they went extinct, and their extinction roughly coincided with the arrival of AMHs. That can't be a coincidence.

Did they die out due to competition? Or does their disappearance signal their genetic absorption by AMHs?

The fact of Neanderthals' extinction is highly significant. Europe could quite easily have supported both species if their population numbers were fairly low, approaching what John Hawks has described as "biblical models of human migration, like Noah-and-the-Flood level bottlenecks. " Competition increases as the ratio of resources/population increases. A live and let live attitude prevails if there is plenty for all.

It seems to me that for AMHs to either (i) absorb with almost no trace or (ii) displace/drive to extinction, the indigenous Neanderthal population of Europe, it would be necessary for a great number of AMHs to exist. Even if AMHs had a major technological/cognitive advantage -and the latest research suggests otherwise, e.g., #6, 8, 9- such a thorough dominance would be unlikely. At the very least, we might expect Neanderthals to have survived for a much longer period.

PLoS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003972

Neanderthal Extinction by Competitive Exclusion

William E. Banks et al.

Abstract

Background

Despite a long history of investigation, considerable debate revolves around whether Neanderthals became extinct because of climate change or competition with anatomically modern humans (AMH).

Methodology/Principal Findings

We apply a new methodology integrating archaeological and chronological data with high-resolution paleoclimatic simulations to define eco-cultural niches associated with Neanderthal and AMH adaptive systems during alternating cold and mild phases of Marine Isotope Stage 3. Our results indicate that Neanderthals and AMH exploited similar niches, and may have continued to do so in the absence of contact.

Conclusions/Significance

The southerly contraction of Neanderthal range in southwestern Europe during Greenland Interstadial 8 was not due to climate change or a change in adaptation, but rather concurrent AMH geographic expansion appears to have produced competition that led to Neanderthal extinction.

Link

16 comments:

Crimson Guard said...

Small population sizes shouldve kept them on equal grounds though, with the Neanderthals perhaps a slight advantage in numbers and territory least in the beginning, although it is still a bit strange that they died off relatively recently without real clues.

Cromagnons may of been better runners, but I doubt this would've made a huge impact, Neanderthals in one-on-one combat may actually have been the better fighter or least be able to take more trauma and damage. There should be more evidence of violence between the two Races on a large scale, which there is some but not really alot yet(supposedly).

Sure though it was a war of attrition in the end, with Neanderthals simply running their coarse.

Crimson Guard said...

After 100,000 years or more, one would've thought that the Neanderthals would evolve some and adapted to the more temperate climate of central and Southern Europe and the Near East...since that was their primarily living area, same with the Cromagnons.

Cromagnons were able to undergo such a sudden and drastic gracilization process within 5-10,000 years, give or take, while the Neanderthal were stuck in their form since they debuted.

Here is a map of the Neanderthal range:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/03/photogalleries/neanderthal/images/primary/neanderthals.jpg

Maju said...

I fully agree with Dienekes in this case. It's way too coincidental that the disappearence of Neanderthals happened precisely when H. sapiens expanded in West Eurasia (the second attempt nevertheless).

As for Crimson's objections:

Cromagnons may of been better runners, but I doubt this would've made a huge impact, Neanderthals in one-on-one combat may actually have been the better fighter or least be able to take more trauma and damage.

Not Cro-Magnons yet (this type is quite strictly associated with Gravettian, the Gravetto-Solutrean of Mediterranean Iberia and the Oranian of North Africa).

Anyhow, H. sapiens also were specialists in throwing weapons, what basically supressed whatever advantage that Neanderthals may have in close combat. Before the Welsh longbowmen marked the beginning of the end of heavy armored knights in the Hundred Years' War, their ancestors, also with deadly ranged weapons probably, put an end to the temporary hegemony of heavily built but unranged hunter-gatherers in Western Eurasia.

After 100,000 years or more, one would've thought that the Neanderthals would evolve some and adapted to the more temperate climate of central and Southern Europe and the Near East...since that was their primarily living area, same with the Cromagnons.

The ancestors of Neanderthals (H. antecessor) did evolve... into Neanderthals, the same that our ancestors (H. ergaster) evolved into us. The (estimated) birth date of both species is very similar in fact.

Neanderthals were probably well adapted to the temperate climate of the Mediterranean, painting them with Nordic features is just a fashion and has little support apart of some evidence for red hair. After all they were Homo sp., what means that they originated in the tropics, sweated and had most of those tropical adaptations that we also have. They don't paint them as "furries" in any case (though we really don't know for sure).

Here is a map of the Neanderthal range...

Of the maximum Neanderthal range. At that time our range surely included most of Africa (at least Eastern and Southern and probably also a good deal of the tropical jungle), South Asia and surely also good chunks of SE Asia and Oceania.

Our range was also then bigger. They may have pushed us out of West Asia (to where we arrived before they did) but still we had already taken many other areas.

Cromagnons were able to undergo such a sudden and drastic gracilization process within 5-10,000 years, give or take, while the Neanderthal were stuck in their form since they debuted.

I don't understand this. Neanderthal robustness was surely the direction of their evolution and must have had some advantages, specially when dealing with mammoths and cave bears. H. sapiens (not Cro-Magnons) were gracile already in Africa. This may have been initially a disadvantage as shown by the fact that the early H. sapiens in West Asia were eventually replaced by Neanderthals. Maybe at first we could not outcompete their "superhuman" strength but eventually we found a way.

Crimson Guard said...

Yeah, Redhair is a mutation caused from several generations of black hair, and its completely different from blond(ie yellow).

The Neolithic was a timeframe for the graziliation process of Cromagnons.


Here's a link I had posted on the Anthroscape Forum about another possibility put fourth about the Neanderthal demise:

"Neanderthals could have died out because their bodies overheated"

http://s1.zetaboards.com/anthroscape/topic/993136/1/

DagoRed said...

What does the success of a human specie? I believe its social organization. Cromagnon had a more efficient social organization, with wide relationships among families, while Neanderthal lived in too small groups. The progressive Cromagnon occupation of the land has expelled Neanderthal from the life. There are no evidences of wide violent conflicts among the two groups.

Maju said...

The Neolithic was a timeframe for the graziliation process of Cromagnons.


Please... the Cro-Magnon type is not reported anymore in Magdalenian times. Magdalenian people were smaller and more gracile (some have argued that because climatic reasons but I don't think this looks correct) and, noticeably, with very much narrower jaws, including the first case of impacted wisdom tooth known.

Even if you look at southern Cro-Magnons, like those of North Africa, you already see more gracile types.

Another thing is that Neolithic may have brought to Europe "gracile mediterranean" types, in contrast to the pre-existent "robust mediterranean" ones. How much of this apparent (yet somewhat subtle) change is because of population change or just diet, hard to say.

...

What does the success of a human specie? I believe its social organization. Cromagnon had a more efficient social organization, with wide relationships among families, while Neanderthal lived in too small groups.

It's an interesting hypothesis but what do you have to support it?

Wouldn't large bands anyhow need more resources?

Maybe this, if real, could be tied to Gamble's theory of resource gathering range, apparently much larger for H. sapiens than for Neanderthals, and arguably one of the causes of competitive advantage of Aurigancian and Gravettian peoples (they would gather much more food per band). Gamble argued that this was because of sexual division of labour (Neanderthals would be egalitarian, while among Sapiens only women would take care of children, leaving men much more time to hunt) but there may be other reasons.

Dragon Horse said...

Crimson:

"Cromagnons may of been better runners, but I doubt this would've made a huge impact, Neanderthals in one-on-one combat may actually have been the better fighter or least be able to take more trauma and damage."

Why do you think there was one on one combat?

If cromags were more intelligent or could at least use language more effectively they could have easily taken out Neanderthals like any other larger enemy.

Russians were "bigger" than Mongols that didn't keep the Russians from being under the "Tartar Yoke" for over 200 years.

I can easily see a group of humans acting as a "gang", They just ambushed hunting parties of Neanderthals from high ground with spears throwers and sling shots...then ran away, fast, so fast Neanderthals could not possibly catch them. I’m going to assume these Cromags should be able to run a pretty quick pace for at least ½ a mile or more and I don’t think Neanderthals could do that.

Pick off a larger and slower enemy one by one and at the same time reduce their hunting ground. That is what I would do anyway. I don't think you need 21st century average IQ or 1st world education to figure this out, in fact I think hunter-gathers might figure this out faster than a New Yorker. LOL

DagoRed said...

Maju

I have departed from the theory that explains the different wealth of the nations and from a study of the university of the Wyoming.

http://www.uwyo.edu/news/show.asp?id=633


You also consider that with the progressive Cromagnon occupation of the land the Neanderthal had more difficulties to exchange women among the groups, an essential thing for the prosecution of the species. Without females exchange there is a progress of hereditary and degenerative illnesses, that can bring to the extinction of the species. If weren't mixtures among the two species, or that the mixture produced only hybrids, Neanderthal had to disappeared.



It is a theory, of course.

Maju said...

Well, talking of "free trade" or even trade at all in the Paleolithic seems a little too far fetched to me, not to say ideological and certainly anachronistic. I understand that private property was then extremely limited (personal objects like cloths and weapons maybe) and that communities and the persons that made them were the really important thing. Money did not exist either (though maybe some prestige items may have served as such occasionally) and exchange and gift rather than "trade" was the common practice.

Now, it's certainly very likely that socio-economical networks were somewhat larger than the mere band and that such superior (larger, more efficient) social network would have given decisive advantages to our ancestors. But describing them in Smithian terminology is very much ridiculous, proper of an economist (economics, as taught in universities, is an ideological pseudo-science) and not an anthropologist.

Maju said...

Check also this new paper at PLoS ONE. I believe it was not mentioned in the list. They suggest ecological reasons though I haven't really read it yet.

DagoRed said...

I have to dissent on the definition of pseudoscience. The sciences not mathematics are sciences when the "scientific method" is applied, also anthropology can be not scientific, if spoiled by an ideological prejudices. But I believe it is not this the place for a debate on the epistemology.
About the study of the university of the Wyoming, the researchers have used the terminology of their science and this can play strange to whom deals with other, but this doesn't change the foundation of their hypotheses, that are based on a very reliable knowledge of the social relationships among groups.
The modern studies have shown as Neanderthal didn't have physical or intellectual disadvantages in comparison to Cromagnon and that there was no wide conflict on among the two. The disadvantage was on the social organization. Neanderthal had developed a society founded upon small and isolated groups. Enough great, 10-15 individuals, to organize an efficient common hunting in a very vast territory but enough small to ask not for excessive resources. The contacts with other groups were least, the necessary to exchange the women, or to buy them, or to abduct them. The model was successful for long time, but the new arrival Cromagnon broke the status quo. He had a more complex organization, greater groups with specialized individual activity and relationships among the groups more developed. An elementary economy of exchange that allowed him a greater fertility and an fast increase of population. This provoked the Cromagnon progressive occupation of the territory that has pushed more and more Neanderthal in the marginal zones of the continent, until to provoke his extinction.
This is a theory without objective and experimental evidences, but it is more logical and rational that those suitable in the title.

South Central Haplo said...

In view of latest cholera article, May be that is how AMH out competed Neanderthals. Just like it happened to some extent for American Indians.

John said...

Cromagnons may of been better runners, but I doubt this would've made a huge impact

Absolutely it would be. In conflict, whether personal or between complex weapons systems, speed is a very large advantage and one of three or four major variables. It coveys choice advantage of fight or flight the slower party does not have

Examples:
Hunting party of six Neanderthals meets hunting party of three cromagnon. Cromagnon run and survive. Or cro magnon run and (get more cromagnon)
vs.
Hunting party of six cro magnon meet hunting party of three neanderthal. Neanderthal has no choice but to fight.

War party of 30 prime male Neanderthal attack mixed group of 20 cromagnon. 5 to 10 cromagnons are able to flee and survive.

War party of 30 cromagnon attacks mixed group of 20 neadertal. potential zero survival of neadertal.

Prime adult (possibly both male and female) cromagnon have choice to stand ground or flee.

All, sub adult and prime adult neaderal would be forced to fight.

Absent missile range advantage (not just arm strength but proper missile to arm strength matching ratio) and or sensory leverage (telescopes, radar, advance scouts) the faster population has an advantage.

It is likely from morphology that cromagnon had both speed and running stamina advantage

Maju said...

LOL. John: are you some sort of a gamer? Your reasoning strikes me way too similar to the concepts used in some MMPORGs, where real time group tactics are most important.

Not that it does not make some sense. Though I rather think that, individuals being so extremely important for the hunter-gatherer groups, tribal wars often end with far many less fatal victims as you suggest. From the Anthropology stuff I've read, it's common that as soon as there's one or two deaths (often elderly people), sometimes even before, one of the groups concedes and leaves. Not sure if Neanderthals behaved that way though.

Anyhow, running (and I'd say that mobility and sneak abilities in general) are best exploited when you can use ranged weapons. It's a quite apparent fact that initially the much stronger Neanderthals did expand over the H. sapiens range (at least it appears to have been the case in the Levant). Maybe only when H. sapiens (not necesarily the Cro-Magnon type btw) achieved ranged weaponry, even if just spear throwing or slingshots (not yet archery surely) they could really exploit this biological advantage of greater agility and mobility.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

By John's argument, wolves should have a serious edge over humans.

Maju said...

Actually wolves have fared better than Neanderthals and have been associated with Homo sapiens (dog) since about the same time we are discussing here. But, of course, wolves are not tool and fire using brainiacs, as we and Neanderthals are. So the comparison is only half valid.