Our Cousins Neanderthals
We discovered neanderthals in 1856. For over 300000 years, neanderthals successfully weathered many climatic cycles and adjusted to numerous habitats. They were capable of innovation and adaptation. They disappeared quite abruptly about 40000 years ago as a result of what looks more like a sudden shock than a protracted process of decline.
Scholars always noted the suspicious coincidence that Neanderthals made their exit exactly when sapiens left Africa around 60000 years ago.
Regarding the extinction of the Neanderthal, some scholars said that climate change made conditions more suitable for sapiens while Neanderthals could not cope with it and became extinct. Other scholars argued that Neanderthals were already on the brink of extinction even before sapiens left Africa. Another theory is that the Neanderthal did not go extinct at all – they were assimilated into the expanding sapiens population.
So, what happened to Neanderthals? Why did they disappear?
Rebecca Sykes in her book Kindred does not provide a definitive answer, but her finding strengthens the belief that sapiens had a hand in it. Apparently, neanderthals were sophisticated and innovative enough to deal with diverse climates and habitats but not with their African cousins.
Ms. Sykes provides convincing evidence that on the individual level, neanderthals were in no way inferior to sapiens. Neanderthal bodies were as fit, their hands were as dexterous and their brains were as big – if not bigger – than those of sapiens. The sapiens’ advantages probably lay in large-scale cooperation. Ms. Sykes explained that Neanderthals lived in small bands that rarely, if ever, cooperated with one another. At the time, when sapiens encountered the Neanderthals, sapiens too lived in small bands, but different sapiens bands probably cooperated on a regular basis.
Large-scale cooperation did not necessarily mean that a horde of 500 sapiens united to wipe out a band of 20 Neanderthals. While individual Neanderthals were perhaps as inquisitive, imaginative, and creative as sapiens, superior networking enabled sapiens to swiftly outcompete Neanderthals. This, however, is largely speculation.