WASHINGTON (AP) — Were the Neanderthals simply crowded out by the ancestors of modern humans?
the theory of a pair of British researchers, who say early modern
humans outnumbered Neanderthals by 10-to-1 in a region of southwestern
France they studied.
have long debated the circumstances in which modern people replaced
Neanderthals across Europe about 40,000 years ago. Leading researchers
in the field challenged the research methods in the new study and added
that the idea of a larger population prevailing is not new.
Other theories have focused on climate change, differences in Neanderthals’ ability to think and other possibilities.
the report, in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, Paul Mellars
and Jennifer C. French of England’s Cambridge University contend that
“numerical supremacy alone may have been a critical factor” in human
conducted a statistical analysis of archaeological finds in France’s
Perigord region, and concluded that stone tools and animal food remains
showing evidence of modern humans indicate a much larger population than
of Neanderthals in the region. That, they said, would undermine the
ability of the Neanderthals to compete for food and other necessities.
Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, commented that he
had argued two years ago that evidence that early humans used more
resources and engaged in more intensive labor probably indicated a
larger population density.
addition, Trinkaus challenged the data in the new report, commenting
that the idea of using the number of human gathering sites and their
size, tool counts, and other pieces of evidence “pooled together over
millennia to estimate relative population sizes was long ago rejected by
said the number of human sites has little, if anything, to do with how
many people were around. “For example, a highly mobile group of
hunter-gatherers will leave vastly fewer, if any, recognizable sites
than one that stayed put for major periods of the year and accumulated
trash in one place,” he said.
Several experts agreed the conclusion of the paper wasn’t new.
Ramsey of the School of Archaeology at England’s University of Oxford
said it provided “more quantitative evidence for what many already
thought to be the case — that is that modern humans simply replaced
Neanderthals by gaining higher population densities.”
Joao Zilhao, a research professor at the University of Barcelona,
argued that the methods used to estimate the population were outdated.
He said modern humans didn’t simply replace Neanderthals anyway, “as the
overwhelming genetic and paleontological evidence shows what happened
was assimilation, not replacement.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press