True Ancestry of Europe and Asia
Neanderthal remains are found in Europe and Asia from around 100 kya to
about 35 kya. Many people believe
that these Neanderthals were stupid, brutish creatures, “lumbering caricatures
of humanity” (Trinkus, p 131). This
view is very likely incorrect. Neanderthals
were far smarter and far more adapted than anyone believed.
Neanderthals were robust creatures, with massive muscles and therefore, massive bones to support those muscles. Because they were so massive, this means that there was an evolutionary reason that these creatures, evolved from archaic Homo, became as massive as they were. Some think that this was because Neanderthals were constantly hunting, but this may not be true. In a society where hunting and travel are the constants, there would be no reason to care for those who are no longer useful to the society. However, there is evidence that individuals who were no longer useful to society were still cared for and lived long lives – many Neanderthals found lived well into their sixties. There are also signs of traumatic injury found throughout many groups of Neanderthals; these signs are rampant among the Shanidar Neanderthals from Iraq. Between these two developments, the hunter explanation for why Neanderthals were so robust begins to break down.
A theory proposed by Erik Trinkus, a researcher who spent time working with the Shanidar fossils, is that Neanderthals were robust because they needed to survive so much physical trauma in their lives. He believes that Neanderthals lived a rough, dangerous life and therefore had to find a way to survive the stress. Evolution’s way of providing a solution to this problem was to make them bigger and stronger. Trinkus also views the caring for the sick and injured as a sign that the Neanderthals were not just an errant branch of the hominid family tree, but modern humans with evolutionary adaptations to the environment they lived in.
When it comes to the Neanderthals, there exists a split between two different viewpoints. One viewpoint is that the Neanderthals were a separate species and modern humans killed them off. The second viewpoint is that Neanderthals were modern humans with adaptations. This is the major theory Trinkus supports.
I believe that Trinkus is right, that Neanderthals were, in fact, modern humans. I found his article fascinating and enjoyed taking a new look at the Shanidar fossils that I read about in an older issue of National Geographic. His methods were solid, his ideas clearly stated. All in all, it was a good article and a fascinating idea to discuss.
Trinkus, Erik (2000) Hard Times Among the Neanderthals. In, Angeloni E (ed) Annual Edition: Physical Anthropology: 72-76. Dushkin Pub. Group. Inc: Guilford, CA.