Evolution and humans: Neanderthal more human than posed (Evolution)

by David Turell @, Saturday, January 26, 2019, 21:54 (1525 days ago) @ dhw

The article points to the bias that since we are here and they are not, e ere allays better:


"By implication, if modern humans were in south-western Iberia so early then they must have caused the early disappearance of the Neanderthals. It is a restatement of the idea that modern human superiority was the cause of the Neanderthal demise. Are these ideas tenable in the light of mounting genetic evidence that our ancestors interbred with the Neanderthals?


"Neanderthals are generally considered to have been a distinct human species (Homo neanderthalensis) that once inhabited a region stretching from Siberia in the east to Iberia in the west, and from Britain in the north to Iraq in the south. They first appear around 450,000 years ago and then die out as our own species starts to settle in Eurasia, after 60,000 years ago. Not everyone agrees that they were separate species.


"The important question of course, and one which genetics is unlikely to resolve, is to what degree these differences between Neanderthals and ourselves actually had an effect and impact on the ground. In recent years, we have seen how differences in anatomy seem not to have mattered.

"These physical differences may have been part of a wider phenotypic diversity within the human population, which included the Neanderthals, and may simply reflect contextual differences in ecology. Anatomy could have constrained some behaviours. For example, the bulky Neanderthals may not have been as suited as our long-distance running ancestors to chasing herds across the mammoth steppe.

"On the other hand, they were probably better than them at ambush hunting large animals at close quarters from cover. In the Pleistocene world of rapidly changing ecological scenarios luck had everything to do with success or failure. It was all about being in the right place at the right time, something that natural selection - with its restriction of acting in the present on templates from the past - could not respond to fast enough.

"And so we have consistently mistaken survival and extinction with biological superiority or inferiority. That is why we have incessantly sought differences to explain our observations. We are here and they are not and so we must seek differences to explain the data. (my bold)

"Of course, part of the problem is that we are participants trying to explain a story in which we are actors and that will inevitably lead to bias in our favour. Having given the Neanderthals a name, we immediately conditioned ourselves to seeing them as something else.
They were not us. They were hardly human and we were certainly superior to them. After all, we are here to tell the story. It is one of history's ultimate distortions, perhaps the greatest of them all.

"The footnote is that we have to change the chip, the paradigm if you prefer. There is still an insistence on proving that our ancestors took over the planet from all those who had been here before, Neanderthals included. We replaced all and sundry.

"The evidence of replacement anywhere is, being generous, slim. We have mapped out this replacement, in Europe at least, using the flimsy connection between human type and stone tool technology. Stone tools have been used as proxy for expanding populations of humans and declining ones of other humans.


"Denigrating the Neanderthals has been part of that process of exalting our own. In a recent BBC television documentary I was asked if I would like to meet a Neanderthal today.

"My immediate response was to say yes, but I hesitated and changed my mind. If our history is anything to go by, what would we do if we found a remotely isolated group of Neanderthals somewhere on Earth today? I leave it to the reader to answer that question."

Comment: Excellent discussion of the place Neanderthals should have in our thinking. Note my bold. Survival does not indicate natural superiority. We still do not know all the reasons for survival and therefore for evolution to newer 'better' forms. Evolution is not driven by a need for survival. On the other hand it is obvious there is a drive for evolution to proceed.

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