Friday, July 17, 2009

There Weren't Many Neanderthals - Which is Why They Died Out?!

"Neanderthals Were Few and Poised for Extinction" (July 16, 2009)

"Neanderthals are of course extinct. But there never were very many of them, new research concludes.

"In fact, new genetic evidence from the remains of six Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) suggests the population hovered at an average of 1,500 females of reproductive age in Europe between 38,000 and 70,000 years ago, with the maximum estimate of 3,500 such female Neanderthals.

" 'It seems they never really took off in Eurasia in the way modern humans did later,' said study researcher Adrian Briggs of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany...."

Using DNA from six individuals from the Neanderthal population, DNA from modern humans, and applying what we've learned about genetics - a process very briefly outlined in the article - researchers came up with those numbers: about 1,500 Neanderthal women of childbearing age, with a maximum of 3,500.

Even assuming that they were about a third of the Neanderthal population, that would make a total of around 10,000 Neanderthals in Europe back then. That's not a lot of people.

Being so few in number would have made them very susceptible to "some event that made them go extinct...," as the article quotes researcher Adrian Briggs.

The LiveScience article points out that Neanderthals were not at all stupid. They apparently had - and used - the same hunting technology as the modern humans who lived at the same time.

Overall, this article is a pretty good look at what we know - and speculate - about Neanderthals and why they disappeared around 20,000 years ago.

The only big gaffe I found in this article was this cultural reference: "...Rather than the dumb cavemen characters starring in Geico car insurance ads...." I suppose the author, and the editors, had seen the 'so simple, even a caveman could do it' GEICO advertisements, but not the television commercials. GEICO is an acronym, by the way.

Or, possibly, the staff see playing the piano, using a laptop, and saying things like, "that is really condescending" as "dumb" behavior.

Nah! More likely, they'd never seen the GEICO commercials.

"Geico Caveman Commercial"

xtabi89, YouTube (May 7, 2007)
video 0:30

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