Why is the disappearance of the “Neanderthal” Man 30,000 years ago, significant today? (Part A)

The “Neanderthal” Man represents a branch of the human specie who lived for more than 200,000 years in a large geographical area,covering all of Europe and reaching into Central Asia.More specifically,we could say that the “Neanderthal” Man was the only humanoid who had lived in this vast territory for 200,000 years;a territory which included the Iberian Peninsula,Italy,regions north of the Pyrenees and the Alps, central and eastern Europe,and portions of Asia.The name “Neanderthal”is derived from the Neander Valley in western Germany, where in 1856 the first fossils of a humanoid were found,and were identified as such.What is of great interest,is the fact that for 200,000 years,the “Neanderthal” had absolute dominion over all this vast territory,surviving drastic climatic and environmental changes,especially within the course of the different “glacial” or “ice” ages,when about 45,000 years ago ,another human specie began to arrive in eastern Europe and in the Iberian Peninsula;originating from the Middle East and North Africa.The crux of this interest lies in the fact that within 15,000 years of this “new specie” arrival,the “Neanderthal” human specie had completely disappeared,and was completely replaced by this “new human” invador.This “new human specie” was given the name “Cro-Magnon” after the location in France where the first fossils of this human specie were found in 1868.The “Cro-Magnon”Man is the sole “human” ancestor of modern human beings(Homo Sapiens);their DNA is identical, while no trace of “Neanderthal” DNA(mitochondrial DNA which is Matrilinear) has been discovered in “Cro-Magnon” bones.Nevertheless,we have to mention here that DNA evidence shows that Neanderthals had a DNA which is very similar to that of modern humans.

The Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons lived side by side for over 15,000 years ,yet the Cro-Magnons not only displaced completely the Neanderthals (who had been living in this enormous territory for 200,000 years),but also produced and imposed those existential circumstances where no genetic trace of the “Neanderthal”human specie would survive in modern humans.How could this have occurred?and what are its implications on the survival of the Modern Human Being?

From the various anthropological excavations,beginning in the 19th century until today,scientists studying human evolution,have been able to provide us with important facts concerning not only the anatomy of both the “Neanderthal” Man and the “Cro-Magnon” Man,but also the quality of their everyday lives,their social structure,and of course the level of their technological knowhow(tools,shelter,methods in food provision,etc.)By observing and analysing all this information,these scientists were able to formulate some of the reasons as to why the “Neanderthal” Man had disappeared “from the face of the earth”,after living side by side with the “Cro-Magnon” Man for 15,000 years.

Let us first take a look at the data which characterize the “Neanderthal” Man,especially those facts which classify this specie as being “humanoid”.I believe that the most critical information has to be the detail that the “Neanderthal” Man was able to survive and monopolize a wide geographic region for more than 200,000 years,under extreme environmental and climatic conditions during the duration of several “ice” ages.For the period of 200,000 years that the “Neanderthal” Man had existed in this enormous territory of the Northern Hemisphere, there were three “ice” ages,the last one peaking 20,000 years ago.Their anatomy and their social organization,demonstrate perfectly well why this specie was able to survive and evolve,and why anthropologists classify it as representing a branch of the human species.

Neanderthals were fully erect and of stocky build.They were more muscular,taller and heavier than modern humans,and they lived in small groups(35 to 50 inpiduals).Neanderthals possessed the skull features necessary for speech, and had a gene associated with language and speech.”Neanderthal” Man had an average brain size of 1,450 cc ,while the average human brain size today is 1,330 cc.We could therefore say that “Neanderthal” Man was probably as intelligent as an average modern human being.Neanderthals had the ability to make fire;they used spears of a limited range,they consumed medicinal plants,made clothes out of animal skins,manufactured stone tools,created elaborate burial sites, but lived in caves.So what were the main handicaps of this powerful,big brained and resourceful human specie?

One very important handicap as has been described by anthropologists, is the fact that “Neanderthal” Man was not a very social human specie; surviving on static and monolithic everyday routines which did not permit any of the challenges for inventiveness and the exchange of ideas on a wide scale and in a sophisticated way.All these limitations also should have had a negative impact on language refinement and the formulation of abstract concepts such as the concept of coexistence,the concept of fraternity,the concept of a common vision for the future, and naturally the concept of the unknown “the moment after”.There is evidence that groups of Neanderthals living a few miles apart ,presented vital differences in basic types of tools.For example one group had developed an essential tool such as a fishhook while the other did not.

Neanderthals had a tendency to stay in one place,near a constant source of food provision;not willing to go beyond their subsistence needs and face the unknown challenges of nature.Neanderthals lived in small bands, and their permanent shelters were caves;therefore their dietary behaviour remained the same all year round and did not vary with seasonal changes.Eventhough “Neanderthal” Man had developed spears to use for hunting,these spears were of a limited range.This meant that they had to make direct physical contact with their prey in order to kill it or at least injure it.This procedure was of course very dangerous,putting at risk their welfare and their chances for survival.The life span of Neanderthals was about 40 years,while the Cro-Magnons who replaced them lived well into their fifties.Finally and most critically,there seems to have been a “lack” of a cooperative relationship between the different members in each band.There was no sharing out the chores, where labour could be pided along the lines of gender and age;thus undermining the quality of life of everyone and naturally their chances for survival.What we learn from anthropologists is that the powerful males who were almost exclusively carnivorous, would consume the meat of their prey,isolating themselves from the females and the children.The males left the females and the children to search for food on their own. Studies made on Neanderthal skeletons ranging in age from infancy to young adulthood,demonstrate from their teeth, that tooth growth often stopped suddenly due to illness or malnutrition.Therefore what dominated the social structure in Neanderthal bands was that only the strongest could “reap the fruits of human evolution”,while the rest remained on the periphery ,always facing the risk of death.This everyday life predicament becomes more obvious when we ascertain that there is evidence of cannibalism,since there are Neanderthal living sites where anthropologists found only human remains,while there was complete absence of animal remains.This indicates that under harsh climatic and environmental conditions, when there was no meat for hunting,the starved powerful males resorted to cannibalism;the victims always being the weaker member links of the band.One could therefore conclude that in the Neanderthal social organization there was a lack of “altruism”* and a lack of “empathy”** between the different band members.An absence of such social motives,obstructed the necessary social cohesion,social security and social incentives whereby the inpidual could be creative and effective,not only in surviving the challenges of nature ,but also in ensuring a certain quality of life for the specie,which was not only material but also aesthetic.

*altruism= willingness to do things which benefit other people,even if it results in disadvantage for yourself

**empathy= the ability to understand and share the feelings of another