A new study investigates the possibility that Neanderthals may have been just as intelligent as early modern humans. The new study may prove that the superiority of modern humans to their extinct counterparts may be nothing more than a myth.
The new study was conducted by a pair of researchers using archeological evidence to gather data about the possible intellectual and social capabilities possessed by Neanderthals. The researchers then compared the evidence they gathered to what is known about anatomically modern humans (AMH) that lived alongside Neanderthals over 40,000 years ago.
A paper on the subject was published by Paola Villa and Will Roebroeks at the online journal PLOS ONE. Villia is a curator from the University of Colorado's Museum of Natural History while Roebroeks is an archeologist from the Leiden University located in the Netherlands.
"Modern humans are usually seen as superior in a wide range of domains, including weaponry and subsistence strategies, which would have led to the demise of Neandertals," said Villa and Roebroeks. "This systematic review of the archaeological records of Neandertals and their modern human contemporaries finds no support for such interpretations, as the Neandertal archaeological record is not different enough to explain the demise in terms of inferiority in archaeologically visible domains."
Villa and Roebroeks found that Neanderthals exhibited many of the same capabilities that were seen in early AMHs. The pair found that like modern humans, Neanderthals could also coordinate complex strategies when hunting for prey. They could cooperate and communicate with each other to bring down large and dangerous animals.
It was also highly possible that Neanderthals used language to communicate with each other. They could also understand and use symbols and adorned their bodies with jewelry made from animal bones, teeth and claws. Like their modern human neighbors, Neanderthals could also use fire in a number of ways.
"We have found no data in support of the supposed technological, social and cognitive inferiority of Neandertals compared to their AMH contemporaries," the pair added.
Neanderthals were known to coexist beside AMHs before they disappeared. They first started to spread throughout Europe and parts of Asia approximately 350,000 years ago. The species prospered and continued spreading out but they died out around 40,000 years ago. Villa and Roebroeks say that both archeological and genetic evidence points to interbreeding as one of the causes of the species' extinction.
Interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals would result in infertile males. The spread of these infertile males could have contributed greatly to the decline of Neanderthal populations. While Neanderthals may be long gone, their legacy remains in modern humans today in the form of certain genes still present in modern human DNA up until today.