What killed the Neanderthals? Our Homo sapiens ancestors lived with their hominid neighbours – they even interbred – but around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals disappeared.
Theories include disease, violence, and even inability to adapt to climate change – but a study published today suggests modern humans’ competitive edge came from their advanced culture.
Researchers from Stanford University and Meiji University in Tokyo used computer modelling to see how cultural development – such as art and tool-making – might help or hinder a species.
The modelling, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a small initial population of modern humans, with their cultural arsenal, could completely displace a larger Neanderthal population.
And when they introduced a positive feedback loop to the model – where more cultural development led to more competitive advantage which, in turn, led to more cultural development – the number of modern humans needed to push out a big group of Neanderthals dropped.
That’s not to say Neanderthals were completely culture-free. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of their tool-making, wearing clothing from animal hides and painting rocks.
But while Neanderthal culture remained static, that of modern humans flourished. With culture comes communication, such as conveying hunting grounds and techniques, and social networks.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.