THE HUMANS AND NEANDERTHALS 40,000 YEARS AGO

There was an early interaction between humans and more intelligent species millennia ago; The humans and Neanderthals 40,000 years ago. These species have gone extinct, why or what led to their extinction remains a mystery, but here is an overview on attempts at unraveling this mystery.

Neanderthals were an early species of human that lived primarily in Europe and southwest Asia from about 130,000 years ago until their extinction approximately 40,000 years ago.

Read Also What drove Neanderthals to extinction 40,000 years ago?

The first Neanderthal bones were found in the Neander River Valley in Germany in 1856, and at the time people thought they were the bones of strange modern humans.

Neanderthals skull

Neanderthals were generally more massive but shorter than modern humans. They also had a more prominent brow ridge and sloping forehead.

Since that first discovery, Neanderthal bones have been found across Europe and Asia, from Spain to Russia to Iraq. So what happened to this early species that seems to have been all over the map? This is a question that has plagued scientists mind for years.

We have known about the Neanderthals, native Eurasians, since the nineteenth century, but for decades they were thought of as a primitive species, rightly extinguished when they came up against the intellectual superiority of Homo sapiens.

A cannibalistic view expressed that humans competed with the Neanderthals for resources, cannibalized their children and made necklaces out of their teeth. The signs of cannibalism found in 1899 in Krapina (Croatia) also reinforced their image as savage barbarians. But years after, scientific findings have vindicated this barbaric and cannibalistic view.

Another theory on their extinction explained that it is difficult for two similar species to occupy the same ecological niche at the same time. At the time modern humans were moving into Eurasia, the possible territories that could have sustained groups of hominins in the area were limited.

And while all the Neanderthals that existed on Earth already lived between Europe and central Asia, troops of modern humans kept wandering north out of Africa, wedging themselves into the already cramped northern habitats. Over time, the Neanderthals became outnumbered and were eventually replaced completely.

Neanderthal human

Another pointed to the possibility that Neanderthals had less capacity for social organization than Homo sapiens, which would have made them more vulnerable in times of scarcity. They were living in patchy groups across Europe by the time modern humans (Homo sapiens) were making inroads. This could have also given them into early extinction as mating and reproduction are bound by social interaction.

Another opinion on their extinction is based on low fertility, Condemi said, The disappearance of the Neanderthals was probably due to a slight decline in the fertility among the youngest women, with a 2.7% decrease in fertility rates of young Neanderthal women; the first-time mothers less than 20 years old within 4,000 years with an 8% decrease in fertility rates in this same group.

This could be responsible for the extinction he said. A variety of factors might have lowered these fertility rates. Condemi noted that pregnancies among young, first-time mothers “are on the average more risky than second or later pregnancies.

Anthony Pagano, a medical researcher at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, has a new explanation. He thinks Neanderthals might have been unusually prone to severe ear infections, which left them struggling to compete against their Homo sapiens cousins.

In modern humans, ear infections can happen at any age but it is mainly young children who get them; five out of six will have at least one such infection before their third birthday.

In 2017 Dr Pagano suggested this could be because of the orientation of the Eustachian tube, which is located just inside the eardrum and connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. The throat end of this tube opens when a person swallows, allowing air to be sucked in or pushed out of the middle ear so that its internal air pressure matches the outside world.

Neanderthal ear

This is why swallowing during take-off or landing on a plane can relieve painful pressure in the ears.

It certainly is difficult to conclude on the reason for the extinction of the Neanderthals, and nothing seems to indicate that this prehistoric mystery will be solved any time soon.

While we leave it at that, Read about Neanderthals Gene found in humans?