Sunday, March 7, 2010


I find human evolution to be one of the most interesting parts of evolutionary biology because it affects us directly. On pgs. 205-06, Coyne mentions the famous Neanderthals, whose fossils are found around Europe. He says that "when I was a student, I was taught they simply evolved into modern humans." Now, evidence suggests that Neanderthals were a evolutionary dead end. What theories revolve around Neanderthals? How did they evolve? How did they go extinct? Talk about them possibly encountering modern man H. sapiens. Also, how close were Neanderthals to modern man? There is evidence of them having burial rituals, which might suggest a religion. Some debate that they had a sort of culture with art and music. Who were H. neanderthalensis?

1 comment:

  1. Neanderthals were scattered throughout Eurasia, and there weren't more than 15,000 of them at a time. The climate of their entire habitat cooled toward the end of their existence to something similar to northern Scandinavia today. Thus, evolved to have many adaptations to a cold climate.

    They coexisted with modern humans but with little interaction. Their societies were very different from ours. The organization of our social units seemed to have a selective advantage over theirs. The women in humans' groups were gatherers, while the men were hunters, and groups consisted of many families. Neanderthal units tended to be just one extended family, with the women and children joining the men in the dangerous job of hunting. They were sturdy and muscular, with brains bigger than our own, and more adapted for hunting.

    One theory as to their extinction is that the modern humans out-competed them - their social groups led to more survival of women and children, their sophistication in the use of tools and their use of language led them to survive better than Neanderthals.
    There is also the idea that the wild, rapid fluctuations of climate in the last few years of Neanderthals' existence caused them difficulties that they could not overcome. Or perhaps a combination of both factors killed them off.

    There is evidence that they weren't too far off from modern man. Neanderthal bones have been discovered with a black ink-like substance probably used for body decoration. They share a gene with us, FOXP2, that may be responsible for language. They may or may not have been smooth talkers, but we can safely say that they had forms of vocal communication.
    However, they had some differences from modern humans that could've given us the edge.
    First of all, there is evidence that Neanderthals reach reproductive age about four years earlier than modern humans. This means that they have less time to learn about their culture before maturity, and probably that their life spans were shorter. Also, they were huge, and needed on average 5,000 calories a day while relying mostly on meat from large animals for their diet. This made it hard to find food, especially that much food.
    I personally do not think they were driven out by humans. They probably encountered each other and didn't think much of it. There are some more violent theories out there but little evidence for any strong conclusions.
    Neanderthals probably went extinct as a result of a body frame that was hard to support, social groups that did not facilitate survival of young, and very rapid climate fluctuations that were difficult to adapt to.