Neanderthals & Denisovans — Who Were They? Comparison Of Evidence Against Pop-Culture Projection

November 6, 2016 in Fossils, Humans

Neanderthals. Since the term was first coined more than a century ago, it has often been used to refer to people of supposedly low intelligence and brusque manner. But is there any truth to these characterizations?

Were the so-called Neanderthals, that lived in Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Asia for possibly more than half a million years — back when the weather was, going by the evidence, periodically far more extreme than it now is, and when enormous and intelligent carnivores such as cave hyena, cave lions, and others, actively hunted people — truly stupid? (Cave hyena and cave lions were much larger and more numerous than their modern equivalents). What about the so-called Denisovans?

Would that even have been a possibility? If a modern human was to be plucked out of the highly insulated, and relatively predictable, modern world and put in the place of a neanderthal would they actually behave more “intelligently?” Would a modern human behave more intelligently than a neanderthal during a hunt? In a fight? In small-scale warfare?

The truth, as noted by many of those in relevant fields, is that the behaviors associated by most modern people with “intelligence” are cultural solutions, not individual/genetic ones. They’re solutions of specialization and hierarchy. Solutions based on agriculture, food surplus, professional armies, relatively static social and symbolic structures, and deep enculturation.

Solutions of domestication in other words.

While on the mass scale you could consider these solutions to be effective ones (that will depend on your opinion of mass deforestation, desertification, extinction, and anthropogenic climate change), they don’t truly relate to increased individual intelligence — just to a greater focusing on specialized knowledge, and participation in a larger system that one doesn’t actually have direct knowledge of. (And they seem to have the effect of decreasing a sense of personal responsibility for one’s actions, neighbors, and the wider world, as well.)
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