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New Evidence Debunks "Stupid" Neanderthal 505

Posted by timothy
from the new-yorker-redrawing-decades-of-cartoons dept.
ThinkComp writes "In what could possibly be a major blow to a scientific consensus that has held for decades, recent research suggests that the traditional conception of Neanderthals being "stupider" than Homo sapiens may in fact be misleading. As articles about the research findings state, 'early stone tool technologies developed by our species, Homo sapiens, were no more efficient than those used by Neanderthals.' The data used in the study is available on-line along with a visual description of the process used."
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New Evidence Debunks "Stupid" Neanderthal

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  • by david@ecsd.com (45841) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:31AM (#24751821) Homepage
    Now what am I supposed to call my brother-in-law?
  • Stone Tools (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:32AM (#24751839)

    So easy a caveman can do it.

    • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @01:20PM (#24754205) Journal

      I was a young man in the stone age (1970s), you insensitive clod! I was a beta tester for dirt. They never did get all the bugs out.

      The "stone age" was a wonderous time to be a young nerd. As there was cheap and easy contraception, no incurable STDs (the CIA had yet to invent AIDS), and women were trying to get parity with men, even a nerd could get laid! In fact, in the stone age women would ask ME (of all people) "wanna fuck, dude?" as easily as they would ask "Hey, you got a joint?" or "man, my radio's broke, can you look at it for me?"

      File sharing (via cassettes) was legal. We had wooden computers called "slide rules" because electronic ones were still insanely expensive.

      You young fellows don't know what you're missing. Man, I really miss the stone age.

  • by slashname3 (739398) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:32AM (#24751847)
    This is refuted by the discussions on this board. There are stupid neanderthals posting here every day!
  • by extirpater (132500) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:33AM (#24751859)

    as netherlands...

  • by sjonke (457707) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:33AM (#24751863) Journal

    The Homo sapiens bought out the Neanderthals tools and buried them, thus ensuring the success of Homo sapien tools.

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:33AM (#24751867)

    We have known for a long time that Neanderthal had a larger brain than modern human and a sophisticated culture, including burial rites. There was no scientific consensus that Neandethal was stupid.

    • by PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:38AM (#24751945) Journal

      There was no scientific consensus that Neandethal was stupid.

      ... there is no scientific consensus that the average homo sapiens is smart, either.

    • We have known for a long time that Neanderthal had a larger brain than modern human and a sophisticated culture, including burial rites. There was no scientific consensus that Neandethal was stupid.

      Define "a long time", please. 100 years? 50 years? 30 years? 20 years?

      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:59AM (#24752257)

        Well, if they couldn't figure out the skull capacity from the skull cap found in 1829 they certainly could from the skull found in 1909. Those 19th century guys had a habit of thinking that white men were the smartest thing going so they probably thought Neanderthal was pretty dumb, but that was hardly a scientific view.

        In 1880 Neanderthal remains were found with cultural items and tools. In 1983 a hyoid bone was found that showed Neanderthal vocal capabilities were probably almost identical to modern humans'. The Neanderthal graves at Shanidar were discovered in 1957. These are the famous ones that include pollen.

        There has been a lot of controversy over various aspects of Neanderthal culture since their discovery. There really doesn't seem to have ever been a "scientific consensus" regarding their intelligence.

        • From your answer, I conclude that the term "pop culture" isn't quite the right term. I'd use "scientists' preconceived ideas". Among such ideas are:

          * Dinosaurs were like today's lizards. This was a common belief 2 centuries ago.
          * T-Rex was the king of dinosaurs, a terrible hunter. New evidence suggest it was more like the king of scavengers.
          * Stomach ulcers could not possibly be caused by a bacteria. The discovery of the H. Pilori set them wrong.
          * There couldn't be anything like black holes. And it was Einstein who believed this.
          * There are 9 planets orbiting the sun. Turns out Pluto isn't even a planet.

          See, precisely the point of science is that new theories can replace old theories (and even beliefs). But calling preconceived ideas "pop culture" is stretching it a bit too much. Unless you want to start a debate about Pirates vs. Ninjas :)

          • by genner (694963) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @11:29AM (#24752655)

            But calling preconceived ideas "pop culture" is stretching it a bit too much. Unless you want to start a debate about Pirates vs. Ninjas :)

            But there's scietific conseus that ninjas are cooler than pirates.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MBGMorden (803437)

            * There are 9 planets orbiting the sun. Turns out Pluto isn't even a planet.

            That's not really a scientific fact though. It's not as if a planet is some universal constant that we happened to discover Pluto doesn't match. Stating so would be as illogical as stating that we recently discovered the Pluto wasn't "awesome anymore". It's just a classification method. Pluto could very well be validly classified a planet if we so wished.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:45AM (#24752057) Journal

      I think this is all just part of Geico's back-pedal campaign.

      They realize they screwed up and pissed off a bunch of Neanderthals.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Brain size != intelligence. Compare brain sizes of somebody with Down's Syndrome and Yo-Yo Ma. Discuss.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ceoyoyo (59147)

        Actually, you're wrong. Brain size does correlate with intelligence, fairly well between species but even a bit within a species: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_and_intelligence [wikipedia.org]

        Brain size, given a particular body mass, is a good first approximation of relative intelligence. Yes, disease is a confounder, and brain size is not as good a guide within a species.

        However, when species A and B are pretty close in body mass and species B has a bigger brain, you'd better be really careful saying specie

    • by rtb61 (674572) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:57AM (#24752227) Homepage

      The intelligence of Neanderthals is not necessarily the driving force of their ability to compete with homosapien. They could have been equally as smart or even smarter on an individual basis. However their collective intelligence, the ability to operate in larger groups, rather than extended family groups, means the while individually they might have been smarter and stronger they ended up being outnumber on the field of conflict.

      Also homosapiens were likely to have been more vengeful and fielded a larger group to pursue and Neanderthals after a hunting party skirmishes, which initially the Neanderthals might have won and collected their prize of long pig only to be latter pursued by a far larger group combative homospaiens.

      So the difference is not in the individual intelligence but in the social collective intelligence, the group that worked together, that shared an extended tribal awareness and, that were willing to sacrifice themselves, their time and effort in support of the future goals of the group proved to be far more successfully as a group. Pretty much the same as it is today. The societies where the individuals are only out to gain as much as they can for themselves regardless of the harm to the group create more unsuccessful society than those a care, share and are willing to work for the collective good. The ratio between the greedy few and the more aware majority define the nature modern societies more so than the individual intelligence of it's members.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:43PM (#24753679)

        Perhaps. It could equally well be explained as the Neanderthals being less aggressive. That's not group or individual intelligence.

        Considering how close we've come to extinction, the choice between us and them probably came down to us being luckier than they were. They went extinct and we squeaked by.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Intelligence isn't what dictates survivability. They may have been smarter in every way. That doesn't mean they get to win. It's about adaptability, robustness, breeding rate, "luck", and a whole lot of other factors amount which Intelligence is probably not even primary when comparing within the same order of magnitude IQ.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @03:48PM (#24756275) Journal

        Actually we don't know that Homo Sapiens hunted down Neanderthals either.

        Warfare only appeared in Homo Sapiens around the time we discovered bows and arrows, about 20,000 years ago, in Africa. It's hard to tell if that was cause or effect or just a spurious correlation, but suddenly we get mass graves of people with arrow heads embedded in their bones and cave paintings of groups of archers shooting at each other.

        At any rate:

        1. There is no evidence of warfare before that. Neither in Homo Sapiens, nor in Neanderthals.

        2. By the time missile weapons arrived in Europe, the Neanderthals were going extinct on their own. The long decline in numbers and area had happened before that.

        Vengeful we may be, but killing someone in melee is actually an extremely traumatic thing. Unless you're a sociopath, you're still wired like an animal to not kill members of the same species. Overcoming that is very traumatic. The Romans for example recognized that and rotated the rows of a legion, so the soldiers would get some time to recover in the middle of a fight. Ranged killing seems to actually be easier, and it puts a wall of plausible deniability between you and the victim. Maybe it wasn't your arrow that killed that guy, after all.

        From there we learned to manipulate people and use group-think to make them kill each other even in melee. But it took an awfully long time to get there, and the Neanderthals were already extinct by then.

        Furthermore, Neanderthals were, if you'll pardon the bad WoW metaphors, all survival-spec hunters. Melee hunters. _Everyone_ hunted with spears, including the women. And they seemed pretty capable to cooperate in a group. Plus, see that thing about using the women too. If someone actually managed to start a war back then between a tribe of Homo Sapiens and one of Neanderthals, I wouldn't be surprised if the latter would have had the upper hand.

        Exactly why they went extinct... now that's still a good question.

        One theory was that they were strictly carnivore and their prey was going extinct due to both climate change _and_ over-hunting. Another one is that they just couldn't compete with us. The Homo Sapiens were hunters _and_ gatherers, and could survive and continue hunting a species into extinction even past the point where predator-prey balance would normally allow the prey to rebound. The Neanderthals relying only on that prey, would have been royally shafted.

        Me, I'm wonder if we didn't kill them sexually, so to speak. Consider the following:

        A. See, one way to get a species of, say, insects extinct, is to release lots and lots of sterile males. If enough females of that species mate with those, the population drops very fast.

        B. There seem to be _no_ genes we inherited from Neanderthals. Considering that the areas for us and them overlapped for thousands of years, I find it unlikely that _no_ horny male of one species wouldn't find a female of the other species attractive enough, or viceversa. I mean, so they were short and stout lasses with sloped foreheads. A lot of people screw worse looking women nowadays. And conversely going to the pub and getting laid by a neanderthal is still a tradition for some girls ;)

        It is very likely that the offspring of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals were either sterile or non-viable. Plenty of closely related species produce sterile offspring when crossed. E.g., lion and tiger, horse and donkey, etc.

        C. The sterile case is actually the funniest, because it may not be immediately obvious that it's a dead end. And in a lot of species such hybrids are bigger and stronger (a liger is twice the weight of a tiger, for example), so for a primitive sentient species it may even look like giving your children more chances of survival that way.

        D. Both species had a chronic shortage of women, due to a life expectancy disparity. Death in birth or from resulting complications took a heavy toll.

        So _if_ they were desirable enough (e.g., because Homo Sapiens tribes

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Warfare only appeared in Homo Sapiens around the time we discovered bows and arrows, about 20,000 years ago, in Africa.

          Interesting that Homo Sapiens only developed warfare after discovering bows and arrows. Chimpanzees make war, or at least violent tribal conflict, and as far as I know they don't use bows and arrows. We share a lot of DNA with chimps.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @11:22AM (#24752563)
      From TFA:

      Many long-held beliefs suggesting why the Neanderthals went extinct have been debunked in recent years. Research has already shown that Neanderthals were as good at hunting as Homo sapiens and had no clear disadvantage in their ability to communicate. Now, these latest findings add to the growing evidence that Neanderthals were no less intelligent than our ancestors.

      It's evidence against the old, already-discarded concensus. So we can chalk this up to the lay media's love of turning articles into "scientific renegade tales", and inability to comprehend that science is continuously revising itself.
  • by Kingrames (858416) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:33AM (#24751871)

    The researchers found that their research was so easy, a homo sapiens could do it.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:33AM (#24751873) Journal

    they embraced Open Source. Weapons. Tools. Technology as a whole. Homo Sapiens stole everything from them, made some improvements and made it Closed Source. Neanderthals had to buy their own inventions back. The competitive disadvantage put them under.

    Let this be a warning to you all.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:35AM (#24751895)

      Netcraft confirms it: the Neanderthal is dead!

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      they embraced Open Source. Weapons. Tools. Technology as a whole. Homo Sapiens stole everything from them, made some improvements and made it Closed Source. Neanderthals had to buy their own inventions back. The competitive disadvantage put them under.

      Ah, that explains why Oog isn't around anymore, breaking heads with his Open Source CD.

    • by kabocox (199019)

      they embraced Open Source. Weapons. Tools. Technology as a whole. Homo Sapiens stole everything from them, made some improvements and made it Closed Source. Neanderthals had to buy their own inventions back. The competitive disadvantage put them under.

      Let this be a warning to you all.

      Um, don't open source the stuff you use to hurt other people with. Gotcha. So should we open source our election process/government or not? I'm not clear if we'd classify that as weapon/harmful medium to be controlled.

  • by topham (32406) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:35AM (#24751909) Homepage

    It's pretty simple. They weren't aggressive enough and we wiped them out through brute force like we do everything else that's different.
    Big shock.

    • by Abreu (173023)

      While this hypothesis makes some sense, there should be at least some archeological record of mixed Cromagnon and Neantherthal remains, along with some weapons to prove it, no?

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        While this hypothesis makes some sense, there should be at least some archeological record of mixed Cromagnon and Neantherthal remains, along with some weapons to prove it, no?

        Theoretically, but since both Neanderthal and Cromagnon had burial rituals and the battles would have probably been small-scale village vs village, it may require a lot of luck to actually find a site where the bodies were left where they died.

    • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @01:32PM (#24754369) Journal

      I don't think so. I think we just outfucked them and out ate them. Fucking and eating are the secret to a species survival, not warfare.

      There was a song back in the stone age (late 1960s:)

      I'm a Neanderthal man
      You're a Neanderthal girl
      Let's make Neanderthal love
      In this Neandrethal world

      Obviously the Neanderthals neither ate enough or fucked enough. I have two children, a lady friend of mine has thirteen still alive (one drowned). She beats me at the extinction/evolution game thirteen to two, despite the fact that she's dumb as a box of rocks and I'm a nerd. Having sex beats being smart any day when it comes to passing your genes, which is what species survival is about.

  • Debunk? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amstrad (60839) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:37AM (#24751931)

    Finding evidence that may alter the "scientific consensus that has held for decades" is not debunking. It is the normal process of science. Debunking is the process of correcting misconceptions and exposing false, unscientific, or non-evidence based claims.

    • Re:Debunk? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by saforrest (184929) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @11:09AM (#24752399) Homepage Journal

      Finding evidence that may alter the "scientific consensus that has held for decades" is not debunking. It is the normal process of science. Debunking is the process of correcting misconceptions and exposing false, unscientific, or non-evidence based claims.

      Furthermore, it's been a very long time since there was any scientific consensus about the "stupid Neanderthal" anyway. As another poster said, popular culture != science. The American Museum of Natural History has a now decades-old depiction of a Neanderthal in a suit & tie as part of an exhibit debunking the old popular-science depiction of Neanderthals as unsavoury brutes.

      I recently read one of the more interesting ideas about how Neanderthals' brains differs from ours; this idea is due to Steven Mithen's The Prehistory of the Mind as described in Britain BC by Francis Pryor. Basically, his idea from interpreting Neanderthal art and tools is that they were no less intelligent but more "domain specific" than we are; they could excel at specialized tasks but fail to seize upon those very important cross-disciplinary insights involving multiple disparate fields of endeavour, which provide the basis for all our inventions.

      In Britain BC, Pryor paints a picture of Neanderthals as a bunch of obsessive and overspecialized collectors. In reading about these somewhat Aspergian-sounding traits, I remember thinking that these guys would probably have made great coders! (Though maybe not project managers.)

    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:10PM (#24753187)
      A lot of scientific consensus held by mainstream scientists is often no longer supported by evidence and needs to be debunked. As Max Planck said:"A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
  • Since when did Geico start sponsoring science research?

    D

  • by pieterh (196118) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:39AM (#24751969) Homepage

    We tend to try to compare individual intelligence but this is probably meaningless. The real reason for our species' success is not that we're individually brilliant, but that we are very good at dividing up large problems to solve collectively. This works thanks to our social instincts: respect for authority, sense of fairness, competitiveness, group belonging, etc. etc. The whole gamut, the reason why we read and post to Slashdot, because we're a social species and bloody good at it.

    Neanderthals, larger, individually smarter, were presumably generalists that could do more by themselves but could not compete as well a group of modern humans, when it came to hunting and perhaps fighting.

    Of course I'm defining "intelligence" very much in the sense of "how humanity thinks and solves problems". It's easy to claim superiority when one is the species writing history.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:41AM (#24751999)

    While there have been great advances, really we've been dealing with the same level of intelligence throughout history.

    What has changed us is the quality of life.

    When you don't have to slay a beast, drag water 4 miles and fend off hordes of enemies, robbers and the plague you can get 'more' done.

    I'm sure in history there were many brilliant people. Some 4000 years ago with the documents we have people still had the same ideas, the same drama.

    The Steven Hawking of 1000 years ago would starve or be stuck in a mud shack thinking about how to eat and if his family would leave him in the jungle. That doesn't happen in the developed countries.

    After visiting the slums of Rwanda I often asked myself what these people would do if they had access to clean water. The answer - the same thing the Romans, the Greek, the Europeans, the French and the Americans. Build, expand and innovate.

    D~y

    • by smoker2 (750216) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:24PM (#24753391) Homepage Journal
      That's pretty simplistic, and of course wrong.
      Ask yourself - why do we have clean water and they don't ? According to you there is no reason, as we all have the same innate intelligence. In the real world somebody has to organise the people to guarantee the clean water supply. And that's what's missing in places like Rwanda. They are too busy fighting amongst themselves to provide the basic necessities of life properly. So for them to progress to western levels they actually have to progress - it doesn't happen naturally by mere right of existence, or the existence of "intelligence".
      And exporting better technology to these places might provide a short term boost, but is worthless if no-one is learning the basics to create their own technologies. Somebody has to be able to fix this technology or they are forever dependent on the west. At some stage thinking has to turn into doing.
      I can imagine the scene in any western country if the government were to suddenly cease to exist. Things would just stop getting done. Sure the people with the knowledge would still exist, but the guy who fixes the water main isn't going to get paid for turning up every day. Pick your utility - the same situation applies. We would be back in the dark ages within 20 or 30 years, maybe excepting small pockets of rich people who could keep their lifestyle going. So like I said, back to the dark ages. And people still don't seem to realise that if you forget the mistakes of the past you get to repeat them.
      All in all, intelligence is not the driving factor in "civilisation", cooperation is. And that cooperation usually has to be enforced, hence government. Your standard of living depends on the quality of the government, not how bright each individual is. Bad government uses guns to get its own way, so doesn't need a happy healthy population. Good government knows that it costs less to keep people happy than to fight them, and they can enjoy the benefits of that cooperation too.
  • They simply couldn't admit their own mistakes and learn from them; preferring self-rightious extinction over humbling erudition. Those few who remain are called Neocons.
  • are our childrens stupider to neanderthals?

  • Whew! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tjstork (137384)

    I still think white people are basically a cross between homo sapiens and neanderthals. Like, somewhere along the way, super strong neanderthal dudes came in, grabbed the homo sapiens women, and thus, white people were born. I think there's no other possible explanation for our horrific sense of fashion and penchant for shiny metal objects. I'm just about to tell my wife, that, I can't help my need for a quad motherboard and a 400 hp sportscar... I'm just genetically doomed because of my neanderthal gene

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by camperdave (969942)
      I think there's no other possible explanation for our horrific sense of fashion and penchant for shiny metal objects.

      I guess you haven't seen the gangsta rap crowd walking around with their pants half way down their asses and 50 pounds of bling around their necks.
  • Huh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:45AM (#24752055) Journal

    WTF? We've known for this for at least thirty years now; that the earliest modern humans had tool kits that did not vary in any great way from Neandertals. In fact, it's one of the great puzzles of evolution that modern human behavior did not arise until a long time after modern humans (anatomically, at least) had evolved. For chrissakes, just look at the Levant where modern humans and Neandertals shared the same territories for thousands of years, with little to tell them apart other than their skeletons.

    • In human fossils we see the skull and hence can deduce the size of the brain , but we've no idea the structure the brain itself had in peoples from hundreds of thousands of years ago. Its perfectly possible that they may have looked the same as us on the outside but mentally weren't quite there because our brains continued evolving (which doesn't necessarily mean getting bigger) after our bodies had stopped.

  • by mseidl (828824) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:45AM (#24752065) Homepage
    After finding that the Neanderthals had purchased an iPhone 3g when no 3g service was available 20,000 years ago.

    They reposted their original findings that Neanderthals are dumb.
  • I mean, I know we succeeded and everything, but doesn't it suck a little bit to be VHS?

  • by timholman (71886) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:56AM (#24752201)

    The conclusions of this study are not exactly news. It's been known for some time that early homo sapiens tools were no more advanced than Neanderthal tools. But at some point, there was an explosion of creativity and inventiveness in modern man that the Neanderthals could not equal, probably due to home sapiens having superior language skills and capabilities, and the ability to share and communicate ideas in ways the Neanderthals could not. Modern man then evolved superior cultures and technologies that surpassed the Neanderthals.

    One on one, raised without the benefit of language and culture, a modern man would probably be no brighter, and in fact considerably physically weaker, than a Neanderthal. But collectively, Neanderthals were no match for modern men with their more advanced languages, societies, and weapons.

    • by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @11:18AM (#24752511) Homepage Journal

      Actually my understanding is that it is a less strict dietary requirements that allowed humans to survive while the neanderthals died off during an ice age. The idea is that humans would eat anything (omnivores) - greens, roots, fish, insects, meat, eggs, whatever and that the neanderthals were quite strict carnivores. When the source of food becomes scarce, those who are more diverse eaters will have an advantage.

  • Ouch! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Setherghd (942294) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @11:00AM (#24752275)

    ...possibly be a major blow to a scientific consensus...

    Or a major contribution?

  • Zerg (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tolkien (664315) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:02PM (#24753091) Journal

    FTA:

    Mr Eren believes the most likely explanation is that Homo sapiens were simply able to breed more quickly.

    "It's not that we were better than them," he said. "It's just that there were more of us."

    Damn we're lame. We zerg-rushed them before they could advance in their tech tree and now they're extinct. :(

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