In class today, we learned about the Upper Paleolithic Revolution and how this period of time came along with the beginning of behavioral modernity and key indicators of social and technological complexity among the anatomically modern humans in Europe. We learned today that anatomically modern humans are homo sapiens and includes any individual that fits into a range of variation, physically. We also learned that neanderthals were a different type of species that went extinct about 30,000 years ago and that they are not anatomically modern humans.
We briefly touched on the difference in class, but this topic intrigued me and I decided to research the difference between these two populations more extensively. Since there are no living neanderthals, it can be difficult to study the differences between these two species. However, it has been discovered that neanderthals have distinct physical differences from anatomically modern humans. Neanderthal bones are generally larger than anatomically modern humans, they were more muscular, and had larger brains than modern humans, but also shorter limbs. They also had more pronounced eyebrow ridges, flatter, but wider noses, and more receding chins than anatomically modern humans. Another interesting difference is that by studying neanderthal teeth, researchers have concluded that neanderthals mature much faster than humans, reaching maturity at 15 years old. They also had higher mortality rates and shorter life span than anatomically modern humans possibly due to physical stress.
What is even more intriguing than the physical differences between these two species are the ideas of why neanderthals’ had differing features. It has been thought that the larger physical build of the neanderthals was due to them adapting to the Ice Age of Europe, which included harsh, cold climates so their bigger build helped to consolidate heat. Another thought is that because neanderthals were less advanced in technology compared to anatomically modern humans, their more massive build allowed them to utilize physical hunting methods, such as spearing or running down large animal prey. Additionally, as the Gravettian cultural pattern (which we learned about in class) became more prevalent with more advancements and varieties in tools, archeological evidence indicates that anatomically modern humans were much better with coping with technological advancements while neanderthals were not so successful.
While anatomically modern humans and neanderthals certainly had many physical differences, their behavioral patterns seemed to be similar and the two species did interact with each other. Both species buried the dead, used fire, hunted meat, and made tools. Yet, the neanderthals still went extinct. Why the neanderthals went extinct is an ongoing controversy, however, it has been suggested that anatomically modern humans were able to maintain rapid population growth while the neanderthals were outnumbered, use advanced technology, and that these changes overwhelmed the neanderthals and they couldn’t keep up with modern humans. Some even think that anatomically modern humans killed the neanderthals. Another thought was that since anatomically modern humans were more technologically advanced, they used smaller, lighter weapons and tools for hunting, while neanderthals often risked their lives by coming in close contact with their large animal prey while hunting, which made modern humans more likely to survive. Lastly, modern humans had more neural activity and were more creative and able to communicate, whereas neanderthals did not have their own language or creativity which could have hindered them from surviving and competing with homo sapiens.
I find the conclusions and thoughts that can be made from studying these two species’ physical features to gain insight on what their lifestyles would have been like so interesting. Remains and physical features of species can give so much information and ideas on past lives, interactions, and lifestyles. While this topic still has many uncertainties and the extinction of neanderthals are still a mystery, more research findings in the future can enhance our understandings between the two species and help explain why exactly neanderthals were outnumbered by anatomically modern humans and why they went extinct.
Resources: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2008/10/nean-o04.html, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0220_030220_humanorigins2_2.html