Extinction of Homo Neanderthalensis

Summary The paper provides an in-depth and comprehensive research explaining the extinction of the Neanderthal species from the earth. It unravels how their existence and eventual extinction almost 30,000 years ago has raised heated debates amongst the scientific, historical, and archaeological communities. It has extensively identified and explained the most common theories attributed to their eventual collapse notably their inherent incapacity to cope in sudden climatic changes, competitive exclusion, emergence of new diseases, hybridization by the Cro-Magnons, and extermination by early human species. These factors combined both directly and indirectly resulting in the eventual extinction of the Neanderthals. The paper credits extensive scientific investigations, which reveals that thermal considerations were helpful in unraveling the imminent challenges of the late Paleolithic archaeology i.e., the extinction of Neanderthal species and persistence of the modern humans. Recent examinations have also revealed that harsh environmental conditions and extreme climatic fluctuations resulted in Neanderthal extinction. Moreover, the archaeological data shows that the Neanderthal species were adapted to cold conditions but only to some degree. Finally, the paper closely examines why the Neanderthal extinction coincided with the arrival of modern man. In this aspect, it concludes that the arrival of modern man directly led to rapid extermination of Neanderthals because of increased competition for large game and the emergence of new diseases to which the Neanderthals were not well adapted.

Extinction of Homo Neanderthalensis The origin of Neanderthals can be traced back to 300,000 B.P. Initially they occupied Western Europe and Asian territories until 200,000 B.P. Since the Neanderthal species was discovered in 1856, their place in the genealogy of human family and their ancestral relations to contemporary Europeans has been subject of several debates despite the fact that they are classified as separate species distinct from humans. In order to understand their existence and eventual extinction almost 30,000 years ago, archaeologists have developed various theories to explain their fate. The most common theories include their inherent incapacity to cope in sudden climatic changes, competitive exclusion, emergence of new diseases, hybridization by the Cro-Magnons, and extermination by early human species. According to Tattersall and Schwartz (2007), these factors combined both directly and indirectly resulting in the eventual extinction of the Neanderthals. Scientific and archaeological researchers have identified various hypotheses explaining the cause of Homo Neanderthalensis’ extinction from the world. These theories try to explain that the extinction of Homo Neanderthalensis was not solely a result of human interference. They suggest that there were environmental factors, which were also involved in the extinction of this species from the earth. These theories will be examined in this paper in the subsequent paragraphs. Rapid extinction by pathogens hypothesis stipulates that the species were more susceptible to various pathogens than the human species. Tattersall and Schwartz (2007) attribute this to different lifestyles between human beings and the Homo Neanderthalensis species. Besides, the occurrence of various pandemics and epidemics that killed a few human beings but caused massive mortalities in the Homo Neanderthalensis also resulted to their gradual depopulation and subsequent extinction. As a result, the Homo Neanderthalensis population declined significantly due to pathogenic causing diseases, and eventually wiped out the entire species. Among the notable diseases, which resulted in the extinction of Homo Neanderthalensis is gonorrhea. This disease spread more and faster among the Homo Neanderthalensis, resulting in high morbidity and mortality of the species eventually resulting to the extermination of the Homo Neanderthalensis species (Underdown 2008). The Homo Neanderthalensis were less adopted to evade the disease causing microorganisms. They did not have effective body defense mechanisms hence they were always susceptible to new infections, which killed them in large numbers. Their susceptibility resulted in increased and faster spread of diseases amongst the populations. This was very different from human species that had effective body defense mechanisms that inhibited rapid spread of diseases and hence were least likely to succumb to epidemics. Due to their intelligence, human beings were able to avoid close contact people suffering from particular diseases, therefore making it possible to evade the transmission of the infectious agents. For this reason, the Homo Neanderthalensis species was not able to survive in an environment full of infectious organisms (Underdown, 2008). Anthropologist of Arizona University proposed that the lack of division of labour in the Homo Neanderthalensis population resulted in their demise. These species did not have specialization like the human beings. The male and the female animals all went hunting for the big and small game together. This is as opposed to human beings who had undergone division of labour and specialisation such that the male humans were the ones hunted down big game leaving the small ones for the females. This lack of specialisation for Homo Neanderthalensis had two direct effects: first, the males were not able to become very strong to face the big animals and capture them to get food due to inadequate exposure hence resulting in less food for the Homo Neanderthalensis and their perpetual extinction from the face of the earth. Secondly, the big animals were naturally dangerous to females Homo Neanderthalensis and in most cases, they ended up killing majority of them resulting in lack of female Homo Neanderthalensis to ensure continued perpetuation of the species. Human beings were able to survive since the males specialized in hunting big animals such as bison and wild horses. The males specialised in such activity, grew stronger, and thus were able to have steady supply of food that ensured their survival. On the other hand, the female human beings were not exposed to the constant danger of being killed by the big animals during the process of hunting, thus the human species survived well than the Homo Neanderthalensis species (Gillespie, 2008). If the Homo Neanderthalensis underwent division of labour like the human beings, the males would become well adapted to attack and kill the big wild animals. They would be more adapted to hunt the big animals without being killed. They would also ensure that at the end of the day, there is sufficient food for consumption. This would result in the continued existence of the species. On the other hand, the females would be able to attack the small animals and ensure that they go home with some food. They would however not expose themselves to the dangerous and bigger game, ensuring that the females survived to preserve the perpetuation of the Homo Neanderthalensis species. The Neanderthals did not however specialize in such type of hunting resulting in massive depopulation of female species who died while hunting. In addition, the Neanderthals experienced low food supplies and there was an increased decimation of females resulting in less reproduction among the Homo Neanderthalensis species and the subsequent extinction of the entire species (Gillespie, 2008). Other researchers have proposed that there were significant anatomical differences between Homo Neanderthalensis and human beings. The species had shorter and stockier limbs and therefore were not able to run very fast like human beings hence failing to cope with severe competition for food. In order to walk and run, the Neanderthals needed more energy in fact they needed thirty percent more energy when compared to human beings hence they often failed to capture their prey as they looked for food. The animals would also not run as fast as human beings would therefore; they were not able to capture animals, which were their major source of food. In addition, they would not run fast enough to evade imminent enemies thus; they regularly died in the hands of potential enemies. Other researchers have proposed that the pelvises of Homo Neanderthalensis were not well adapted for the absorption of shock like the human beings. Therefore, bouncing off from one-step to another was a big problem for the Homo Neanderthalensis, which might have contributed to their extinction (Tattersall & Schwartz, 2008). The anatomical differences between humans and Homo Neanderthalensis species gave the humans an advantage over the Homo Neanderthalensis in competition for food and residence. The humans were able to gather enough food for their use and find suitable habitats for their shelter moreover human beings were able to fight their enemies better than the Homo Neanderthalensis. This resulted in a situation where the Homo Neanderthalensis were more exposed to food shortages and attacks by other world animals. They were not well adapted to defend themselves or run because of their anatomical differences. This resulted in a continued decrease in the population due to lack of enough food and attack by other animals leading to their subsequent extinction from the earth (Tattersall & Schwartz, 2008). Climatic changes also contributed to the extinction of Homo Neanderthalensis. Various theories have hypothesized that they were not able to adapt to the changing climate in Europe and change their hunting methods. The European continent underwent change in climate, which led to sparse vegetation growths to become a semi-desert. However, the Neanderthals were not adapted to walk faster and run long distances to look for food. This resulted in decreased food and a decrease in the Homo Neanderthalensis population (Shea, 2008). Scientific investigations and extensive research reveals that thermal considerations have been helpful in unraveling the imminent challenges of the late Paleolithic archaeology i.e., the extinction of Neanderthal species and persistence of the modern humans. Recent examinations reveal that harsh environmental conditions and extreme climatic fluctuations resulted in Neanderthal extinction. Besides, the archaeological data shows that the Neanderthal species were adapted to cold conditions but only to some degree; in fact, Gillian (2007) argues that they were more adapted to mild cold conditions but not well adapted to severe cold spells hence the emergence of very cold conditions resulted to their extinction. Throughout the world, Neanderthal extinction coincided with the arrival of Homo sapiens. Some theories suggest that Neanderthals led extremely difficult and scary lives. The arrival of modern man directly led to rapid extermination of Neanderthals because of increased competition for large game. In addition, the emergence of new diseases from Southern immigrants also resulted in their extinction. The Neanderthals inhabited most parts of Western Eurasia where contemporary fossil records “show incipient Neanderthal cranial morphologies.” Today, it is understood that they had inferior physiological and cognitive abilities compared to modern man. Various theories postulate that the Neanderthals were carnivorous and predators in ecosystems where they existed and often they competed for food with hyenas and lions but since they could not ran faster and relied on primitive weapons they were forced to extinction since they could not secure sufficient food. Other theories from recent scientific examinations claim that the Neanderthal extinction was primarily due to unprecedented population from the Cro-Magnon population hence refuting the theory underpinning climate change to their extinction. In one study, scientists reconstructed climatic data from Western Europe during the period Neanderthals were thought to have lived and analyzed archaeological data from sites they inhabited prior to the arrival of modern man and concluded that indeed the Neanderthal extinction was due to severe fluctuations in climatic conditions. This study employed geographic data from archaeological sites dated by carbon dating technology and used climatic dating 40,000 years ago in order to determine how prevailing climatic conditions shaped the areas inhabited by the Neanderthals. Through integration of archaeological and environmental data, this study reconstructed and identified regions with favorable climatic conditions occupied by specific populations. After comparing various areas occupied by Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, during the climatic phases under review, it was found that the Neanderthals occupied vast lands across the European continent during climatically favorable times known as the Greenland Interstadial but their populations declined as environmental conditions deteriorated. However, Gillian (2007) argues that the Neanderthals who occupied today’s Southern Spain were the last survivors because they avoided direct competition with Homo sapiens since they occupied and exploited different environments during severe climatic conditions. In addition, he affirms that when the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens directly competed for food, but failed to keep due to severe competition posed by early men. Another theory suggests that the Neanderthals disappeared almost 40,000 ago due to catastrophic environmental phenomenon. According to this theory, archaeological data found in “Mezmaiskaya cave suggests that volcanic eruptions, which occurred almost 40, 000 years ago had unusual abrupt and destructive effects on the environment causing severe climate shifts in the Northern Hemisphere. These data hypothesizes that the extinction of the Neanderthals occurred suddenly approximately 40,000 years ago after the most potent volcanic eruption hit “Western Eurasia during the era of Neanderthal evolutionary history” (Gillian 2007). This catastrophic event severely destroyed the environmental habitats occupied by Neanderthal populations and caused massive their massive depopulation throughout the areas they lived especially in Western Europe. This massive losses in Neanderthal populations eventually resulted in their extinction. Despite the fact that this theory is highly controversial, it is nevertheless gives a lucid perspective underlying their possible extinction. However, Gillian (2007) hardly believes that the theory is adequate to be relied upon because the Neanderthal populations inhabited wide range of habitats. In contemporary societies, the greatest mystery in scientific knowledge concerns the rise of Homo sapiens and the extinction of Neanderthals. Although there are several theories explaining the extinction of Neanderthal populations, the most prevalent Darwin’s “survival for the fittest and principle of competitive exclusion,” which accentuate that only the most efficient species will survive in face of competition whereas the least capable will certainly become extinct. Such theories of biological efficiency normally underpin physiological factors. Horan, Bulte, and Shogren (2007) have extensively discussed another possible theory hypothesizing Neanderthal extinction called the “Behavioral Model for Neanderthal Extinction.” They demonstrate how division of labor and ensuing trading patterns among the early Homo sapiens assisted them to triumph over the inherent biological deficiencies of the Neanderthal population resulting in their ultimate extinction. Neanderthal populations in Western Europe first appeared almost 300,000 years ago from the ancestry that later gave rise to modern humans. Anthropologists, historians, and scientists have searched for possible explanations that led to the sudden extinction of Homo Neanderthalensis after thousands of years in existence. Several paleontologists have maintained that their abrupt demise wasn’t coincidental with the rise of early Homo sapiens. Although they have pointed fingers to early human species, it remains unresolved as to how early man exactly contributed to Neanderthal extinction although it is well understood that they created competitive advantage over Neanderthals and introduced new diseases that attacked the less adaptive Neanderthals. Available literature suggests multiple theories that led to the extermination and eventual extinction of Neanderthals although no theory completely satisfies available scientific and archaeological data. However, using Darwin’s theory of survival for the fittest, we can deduce that Neanderthal extinction was due to the ‘efficiency’ and superiority of modern man and the ‘inefficiency’ and incompetence of Neanderthal populations. Other theories have stressed that exogenous forces governed Neanderthal demographic dynamics presumably because these forces were inherent and outside their control. Their ability to find food depended on their skills, physiology, and available hunting technologies. In this context, survival for the fittest firmly holds the idea that “huge differences existed in exogenous biological factors (as opposed to behavioral factors) such as high birth rates and lower mortality rates and physiological and technological factors like being better hunters” (Horan, Bulte, & Shogren 2007). Because the early man was competitively superior to Homo Neanderthalensis, we can authoritatively ascertain that the Homo sapiens competitively outdid Neanderthal species resulting in their extinction. However, Gillian fervently argues against this proposition by ascertaining that it is extremely impossible to determine with precision the exact “biological, physiological, and technological [causes] that led to Neanderthal extinction.” Secondly, he acknowledges the existence of physical differences between Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens and argues that it is impossible to believe that both had distinct anatomical differences. Archaeological data shows that the Homo Neanderthalensis was slightly more squat and bigger although both were stronger and intelligent and were able to make tools and hunting weapons. Additionally, even though both species had distinct differences, scientific and archaeological information is clear that these differences only favored Homo sapiens. Presumably, the Neanderthal populations were stronger and well adapted to the severe environmental and climatic conditions they endured centuries but were highly susceptible to new diseases such as gonorrhea, which killed them in their thousands. Horan, Bulte, and Shogren (2007) refute the theory of biological exclusion because they feel it is inadequate as it primarily focuses on individual traits of the Neanderthal population. Since Darwinian Theory of natural selection, biologists have focused on both the beneficial and unhelpful traits of individual organisms such as their birth rate and mortality rate, their ability to endure stressful conditions and find food but have always avoided studying these aspects on groups of individual organisms. Consequently, their efforts to replicate the theory on natural selection to group levels have failed because of its potential to extend evolutionary theory beyond unreasonable limits.   In his study, Gillespie (2008) investigates how early humans survived and addresses the question of Neanderthal extinction from behavioral perspectives, whereby individual persons devise collective ways to overcome individual constraints in order to make their circumstances endogenous. Another study by Tattersall and Schwartz (2007) found out that the principal theory underlying difficulties of co-existence lies in the “behavioral modernity of early man.” They affirm that up to today tangible and formal behavioral theories provide lucid explanations for Neanderthal extinction. They consider how interactions amongst individuals could have actually resulted in Neanderthal extinction and survival of Homo sapiens and concluded that the development of trade, specialization, and division of labor effectively allowed modern man to “seal the fate of Neanderthals.” Gillespie (2008) supports this theory as he argues that contemporary socio-economic trends are manifestations of simplified underlying capacities, which were acquired by early man but were conspicuously absent when the Neanderthals lived. Consequently, contemporary human species “experienced endogenous economic [prosperity] that resulted to production of detailed and diverse products compared to the ones produced by Neanderthals and earlier human cultures.” This partly explains why modern man survived while the Neanderthals species went extinct. Additionally, Gillian (2007) contends that there are several theories satisfactorily illuminating all aspects of Neanderthal extinction and although he believes that the widely acknowledged archaeological data is in fact poorly comprehended to judge conclusively the absolute pros of every postulated theory however; “it is necessary that we take the first step at incorporating behavioral responses to economic stimuli.” Accordingly, we should incorporate behavioral explanations of Neanderthal demise probably based on their relative capability to reclaim trade gains, which resulted from endogenous division of labor. Conversely, Tattersall and Schwartz’s maintains that the economic foundation of highly exclusive competitive principles at group level enabled modern man to survive as the Neanderthal species died because they pursued uncoordinated hunting episodes.   In conclusion, all the above theories suggest that there were other factors in addition to human interference, which caused extinction of the Homo Neanderthalensis species. The Homo Neanderthalensis species was not able to survive because of their lack of anatomical advantage over human beings resulting in increased susceptibility to food shortages and killing by other animals. They were also not able to specialise into different roles depending on their sexes, thus led to killing of more of them and lack of enough food. There were also climatic changes that resulted in severe food shortages, therefore resulting in death of the animals. Lastly, the Homo Neanderthalensis were less adopted to avoid contacting infections, and were more exposed to epidemics, which later resulted in the extinction of the species from the face of the earth. For these reasons, the Homo Neanderthalensis species is no longer existent on earth.

References Gillespie, R. (2008). Updating Martin’s global extinction model. Quaternary Science, 27(28), 2522-2529. Gilligan, I. (2007). Neanderthal extinction and modern human behavior: the role of climate  change and clothing. World Archaeology 39(4), 499–514 Horan, R., Bulte, E., & Shogren, J. (2007). How Trade Saved Humanity from Biological Exclusion: An Economic Theory of Neanderthal Extinction. New York: Harper Collins  1-48. Shea, J. (2008). Transitions or turnovers? Climatically-forced extinctions of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals in the east Mediterranean Levant. Quaternary Science, 27, (23), 2253- 2270. Tattersall, I., & Schwartz, J. H. (2008). The morphological distinctiveness of Homo sapiens and its recognition in the fossil record: Clarifying the problem. Evolutionary Anthropology, 17, 49–54. Underdown, S. (2008). A potential role for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in Neanderthal extinction. Medical Hypotheses, 71(1), 4-7.

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