Quantcast
Connect with us

Neanderthals were not ‘grunting, ignorant cavemen’ and they kept our early ancestors out of Europe

Published

on

The discovery of a hoard of ancient human teeth in a Chinese cave has forced scientists to reconsider our species’ relations with our closest evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals. The find, revealed in the science journal Nature, shows modern humans must have left their African homeland and reached southern China more than 80,000 years ago.

This unexpectedly early date contrasts with our ancestors’ far more recent arrival in Europe – about 45,000 years ago – and suggests Homo sapiens was prevented, for some reason, from moving there for tens of thousands of years. Anthropologist María Martinón-Torres, from University College London – a member of the team that made the discovery – is confident of the reason. She blames the Neanderthals.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Homo sapiens evolved in Africa and emerged from the continent about 100,000 years ago and swept eastward with little apparent resistance from other hominid species they encountered. But when they headed north, they reached the Levant and met the Neanderthals at the southern edge of their European domain. And there they stopped our spread. Essentially Europe was too small for the both of us.”

Neanderthals were experienced hunters and gifted foragers, and had controlled Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. They were therefore able to keep us at the edge of Europe for 40,000 years, added Martinón-Torres. “It was not a matter of physical confrontation, however. It was a matter of who was best able to exploit resources. They had much more experience of the harsher, colder conditions that existed in Europe. I think we have underestimated them. They were not grunting, ignorant cavemen. They were our equals.”

The discovery of the teeth – 47 found at Fuyan cave in Daoxian, in southern China – was made by a team led by Wu Liu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing. The teeth were beneath rocks over which stalagmites had grown. Dating techniques indicate the stalagmites are at least 80,000 years old. And so everything below that layer must be older. (Teeth are made of dentine and enamel and the latter is the body’s hardest tissue. As a result, teeth are often preserved at prehistoric sites while other body parts decay and leave no trace.) In fact, the teeth could be up to 125,000 years old, researchers suggest. Nevertheless they closely resemble those of modern Europeans. “The Fuyan teeth indicate that modern humans were present in southern China between 30,000 to 60,000 years earlier than in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe,” states archaeologist Robin Dennell in a commentary article about the find in Nature. The difference in timescale is remarkable. Modern humans were thought to have left their African homeland about 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, eventually reaching Europe about 45,000 years ago, the earliest date that scientists have established for the presence of Homo sapiens there. It then took a further 15,000 to 25,000 years to complete our conquest of Europe. However, the new study suggests the real figure is far higher and modern humans had to wait between 40,000 and 50,000 years before they got into Europe.

In contrast to our progress northward, modern humanity’s progress eastward was unexpectedly rapid. However, not every scientist blames the Neanderthals for blocking our progress in Europe. “One possibility is that an early dispersal headed eastwards through Arabia away from Europe and that the colonisation of Europe through the Levant occurred via a later dispersal,” said Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London.

ADVERTISEMENT

“In addition, the climate in Europe was relatively cold and inhospitable then,” he said. “We were not properly adapted to conditions and couldn’t get a toehold – and, of course, the Neanderthals were there already.”

However, when modern humans did arrive in Europe, they made remarkable progress. Within a few thousand years, they had settled across the continent while the Neanderthals had disappeared. As to the causes for this rapid extinction, researchers point to the harsh climate Neanderthals had endured in Europe for the previous 200,000 years, when the continent was swept by ice ages and intense cold. Conditions eventually took their toll and numbers of Neanderthals dwindled. Tribes got smaller and smaller and their genetic diversity was compromised.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Essentially, Neanderthals were eventually left in a genetically exhausted state,” said Martinón-Torres. “When we did get into Europe there were hardly any of them left. The rest went quickly after that.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and legal efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. And unlike other news outlets, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from billionaires and corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click to donate by check.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



Report typos and corrections to: [email protected]. Send news tips to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump Twitter-rages at ‘evil propaganda machine’ New York Times

Published

on

President Donald Trump kicked off his Sunday morning by going on a multi-tweet rant about the New York Times where he blamed them for his poor poll numbers and called them "an evil propaganda machine.'

Trump began with, "The Failing New York Times, in one of the most devastating portrayals of bad journalism in history, got caught by a leaker that they are shifting from their Phony Russian Collusion Narrative (the Mueller Report & his testimony were a total disaster), to a Racism Witch Hunt....., " before adding, "'Journalism' has reached a new low in the history of our Country. It is nothing more than an evil propaganda machine for the Democrat Party. The reporting is so false, biased and evil that it has now become a very sick joke...But the public is aware! #CROOKEDJOURNALISM."

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump suggests hitting France with 100 percent tariff on wine over dispute with Macron

Published

on

According to a report from Bloomberg, President Donald Trump publicly suggested that he would consider a 100 percent tariff on wines coming from France.

The report states that the president recently made the suggestion as part of his trade war that has crippled American manufacturers and farmers while at the same time hitting American consumers' wallets.

Trump's comments came during a recent Long Island fundraiser and were tied to his unhappiness with President Emmanuel Macron and his tax on multinational technology companies.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Gun found in FedEx package sent from US to China

Published

on

Chinese authorities have found at least one firearm in a FedEx package sent from the US, local police said Sunday, in the latest incident to befall the logistics firm in China.

Police in Fuzhou, eastern Fujian province, said "in recent days" they had received a tip about a package sent to a Fujian-based sporting goods company.

The parcel was sent by a US client and contained at least one firearm, said Jin'an district police through their official Twitter-like Weibo account.

The firearm has been seized and officers are investigating, they added, without specifying the number of weapons in the package.

Continue Reading
 
 

Thank you for whitelisting Raw Story!

As a special thank you, from now until August 31st, we're offering you a discounted rate of $5.99/month to subscribe and get ad-free access. We're honored to have you as a reader. Thank you. :) —Elias, Membership Coordinator
LEARN MORE
close-link
close-image