Here is a paper that significantly shifts the focus of the debate about Neanderthal Man. What happened to the Neanderthals during the last glaciation? Did anatomically modern humans (AMH) slaughter them? Did they talk with them? Did they interbreed with them? To what extend did they exchange technologies and ideas? Finlayson and Carrion describe much of this debate as the expression of a "simplistic Neanderthal-AMH dichotomy".
After reviewing much data, they point out an interesting pattern: "An examination of the distribution of Aurignacian and transitional industries across Europe during the crucial time frame between 45 and 30 kya reveals a striking correspondence between location and the presence of sharp physiographical boundaries. This suggests that these industries, some made by Neanderthals (Chatelperronian) and others perhaps by AMHs (Aurignacian?), were independent regional responses to rapidly fluctuating ecological conditions. Their absence from more stable regions, such as south-western Iberia, supports this view. The changing circumstances and stresses experienced by human populations across the Palaearctic, most notably between the MLB and the plains, created a template for innovation."
Thus, instead of the emphasis being on culture associated with evolutionary change, the real issue is analysing the responses people made to their environment. "Technological innovations of the so-called Upper Palaeolithic can be understood as responses to living in vast open spaces rather than to the consequence of a cognitive revolution associated with an evolutionary change."
Of course, this presupposes that the Neanderthals were not much different from the other human groups around at the time. The authors claim that "Neanderthals were capable of behaviour that is regarded as modern". This may come as a surprise to those who have been brought up to think of Neanderthals as hairy brutes that could make little more than grunting noises to each other. Have we been misled by an evolutionary mindset? Is the key to understanding Neanderthals "ecology" rather than "brain wiring"?
Rapid ecological turnover and its impact on Neanderthal and other human populations
Clive Finlayson and Jose S. Carrion
Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 22, Issue 4 , April 2007, Pages 213-222
Abstract: The latter part of the last glaciation, 50,000 - 12,000 years ago (kya), was characterized by a rapidly changing climate, cold conditions and corresponding vegetation and faunal turnover. It also coincided with the extinction of the Neanderthals and the expansion of modern human populations. Established views of modern human superiority over Neanderthals as the cause of their extinction are under attack as recent work shows that Neanderthals were capable of behaviour that is regarded as modern. As we discuss here, the exact nature of biological and cultural interactions between Neanderthals and other human groups between 50 kya and 30 kya is currently hotly contested. The extinction of the Neanderthals, and other modern human lineages, now appears to have been a drawn-out, climate-related affair.
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