Free trade may have finished off Neanderthals

Celeste Biever in The New Scientist International:

The idea that specialisation leads to greater success was first used in the 18th century to explain why some nations were wealthier than others. But this is the first time it has been applied to the Neanderthal extinction puzzle, says Jason Shogren, an economist at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, US,.

He cites archaeological evidence that suggests that humans, who joined Neanderthals in Europe about 40,000 years ago, specialised and traded both within and between regions. The evidence includes complex living quarters with different sections partitioned for different functions. Neanderthals, in contrast, lived in “largely unorganised” living spaces.

There is also evidence that the early humans, mainly one population called the Gravettians, imported materials. Ivory, stones, fossils, seashells and crafted tools were found dispersed through many regions. This greater pool of resources led to increased innovation, says Shogren.

Simulated circumstances

Shogren tested his theory with simulations of population growth. He even gave the Neanderthals, who were larger than Homo sapiens, a head start by assuming they were better hunters and individually brought home more meat – which may or may be true.

But because humans were allowed to trade, in two of three similar simulations, they overcame this initial handicap and ousted the Neanderthals within 7000 years. In the third simulation, the two ended up co-existing.

Read more here.

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