The Late Great Neanderthal

I haven’t done a lot of studying on the progression of the homo genus, so I was incredibly surprised to discover that Neanderthals (the ‘th’ is just pronounced ‘t’; nee-an-der-tall) lived closely with, traded, and probably mixed genes with our own homo sapiens ancestors. I was also unaware that there is a minority of experts who would even classify Neanderthals as a sub-species of us—they classify them as homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

So why did we survive and Neanderthals die out? What separates us? What makes us so special? There are actually a few hypotheses among experts. The first one is easy and painless: they were “absorbed” into modern homo sapiens through interbreeding. Considering that Neanderthal DNA is only different from ours by .12%, it’s not an entirely far-fetched hypothesis.

The second hypothesis is much more bloody. A gentleman by the name of Paul Jordan wrote a book on the subject of the extinction of Neanderthals and believes that the Aurignacians (the homo sapiens associated with the Chauvet cave paintings) violently warred with Neanderthals and killed them off to move into their homes. That’s pretty dark, to think that an entire species of humans could be killed off by another species of humans, but it’s not like we haven’t seen it happen in recorded history before, so it’s a lot more likely to have happened from people who routinely killed mega-fauna like bison, woolly rhinos, and mammoths and used their bones to make huts.

There is a third theory that the cold just did them in, but I find that hard to believe when homo sapiens survived just fine while living in close contact with Neanderthals.



Putting the argument about the extinction of Neanderthals to one side, I need to discuss a fact about which I am absolutely certain. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, I am positive that Link (from the fantastic 1992 Pauly Shore movie Encino Man”) was an anatomically modern homo sapiens sapiens who came from the Upper Paleolithic era. I have a three reasons for this assumption. The first is that he uses symbolic expression (“cave” (bedroom wall) paintings). The second reason is that he was found in Encino, California, which means he had to have come over to North America at most seventeen thousand years ago. This puts him in the time frame of the Upper Paleolithic, probably a couple thousand years after the Last Glacial Maximum. My third reasoning is that Brendan Fraser is clearly lacking the Arnold Schwarzenegger-like appearance of a Neanderthal.

Perhaps it was Link, or someone like him, who helped the Neanderthals go extinct. It probably would have been prudent to question him on these types of things, rather than focusing on making him a cool Estonian foreign exchange student. Now I guess we’ll never know.