Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Neanderthals Go Extinct

It came like this: sapiens had domesticated animals around the time of Neanderthal extinction. There is not a shred of evidence suggesting Neanderthals had any animal husbandry, but there's plenty which attests to how they excelled in close combat and could use their overwhelming strength to take down 1000+-lb. animals by themselves. It doesn’t take much to imagine them grabbing a sheep or a goat under each arm and carrying them off with increasing frequency as smooth-browed herders grazed further and further up into the high country. The resulting conflicts sealed their doom when they were trailed back to their caves by overwhelming numbers until finally dwindling to a last incomprehensible haven under an overhang just above a beach in south Gibraltar.

Experts love being experts so they have this way of missing obviousnesses watching down on them as they scrabble around in the dirt over their pet details. First they said Neandertals died out because they were dumber, then they said it's because they weren't as loving or close-knit, didn't have language, weren't as facile at tool-making. All these theories and their common thread of arrogance have been steadily disproven and the emerging facts indicate the Neanderthals were every bit as human as us. I have long suspected it was them of whom the Bible says:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Genesis 6:4

The picture above (note: will add soon) is of a Neanderthal tool a farmer found in the Dordognes and it's a regular prehistoric Swiss army knife. It's got a tip for drilling holes in bones and skulls on one side and an edge for cutting meat on the other. It's made of jasper which was coveted as a gemstone all over the ancient world because of its beauty and diamond-like hardness. It lays in my hand like it was made for me and it's still so sharp after 30,000 years it has cut my steaks. If they could make this thing of patient angle and precision, they easily could have made the jasper bow-drills found at Mehrgahr starting 7,000 BCE. They could make art. When you hold this stone in your hand, this eloquent marvel which I myself am not capable of making, you can feel just how obvious it is that they were artists. Maybe some of it remains and will be found.

Another conceit is bruited when it's said they were too gentle or weren't warlike enough to compete with us. I'd put my money on the precisely opposing proposition. Our thinner bones snapped against theirs in many an unrecorded mismatch, many disputes over herds and ancestral hunting grounds which we lost hands-down. Man for man it wouldn't have even been close. Some have recently drawn an extinction analogy using the Native American disease pattern after their population was collapsed by European-bred germs. That may well have happened or played a part, but existing evidence doesn't support the population densities, collections, and rapid interchanges so characteristic of the rise of deadly plagues.

There’s at least one simple sapien macro-advantage which definitively drove Neanderthal withdrawal. We ate less. Neanderthal caloric requirements were about twice those of our sapiens, which would mean twice as many of us could be supported per a given hunting ground. Those extra numbers surely provided for enhanced defense of those grounds, and would have favored steady and gradual expansion. To make matters worse for our near-forgotten friends, overwhelming evidence in both historic times and those before shows our collective humanity was usually just a step ahead or behind of famine.

I try to imagine how the human arc would have altered if our baseline requirement had been 4,000 calories a day. Both sapiens and Neanderthals were opportunistic cannibals, but a double-eating individual would suffer a much-increased caloric deficit during periods of food scarcity and would have to resort to survival cannibalism far more quickly. The image that comes with wondering "what if we had to come up with 4,000 calories a day," is that we'd still be roasting each other on spits.

Thoughts of Neanderthals keep on coming back to me. I'm always thinking about them, really, because they were so close to us, may be partially preserved in us, and were in some ways definitely better. It may just be that they were the Nephilim, once celebrated as men of renown, respected for their power and wisdom, and it's quite possible we picked some of our tool-making up from them. For our tools held no technical advantages over theirs. And they were at least as smart as we are right now. It was our bodies which turned out to be more sustainable during times of resource scarcity, so we survived being thrown out of the garden and they stayed. Does that not provide a sweet irony right now as we wrestle with our unsustainabilities and struggle to understand the natures of our multiplexed doom.

11 comments:

Bee said...

Veerrrryyyy Interesting.

Something gave us homo-saps the advantage, that we do know. What that something was...well, that we don't know so much about. The theory of caloric intake is intriguing. I wonder if there is any theory about gestational rates in the neanderthal? I can't honestly think of how anyone could possibly know that, but if their geestational rate was longer than ours (say, 11 months vs. 9 months), we could quickly, and exponentially, simply outbreed them.
Something to think about tonight while I try to get the not-so-dulcet refrains of the Barney song my daughter was listening to earlier out of my head. Memes suck.

MarcLord said...

Bee,

you are a verrry worthy adversary.

always knew thought of that too but there's only so much space on a blog yes the bigger the mammal in general the commensurately longer gestation.

So if they consumed twice as much calories and had those thicker bones well then we could go out to 15 or 18 months and to being constantly pregnant. Quite the handicap.

Give me the code, Mr. Anderson, you humans are a virus. The problem technology has with us is we're not fast enough and the cycle times of our bodies and our minds can't be contracted all that much. It demands some human substance far more plasticine than we can provide so it hates us and tells us we should hate ourselves. But: we should not.

My son has programmed his whole school and all the children and teachers in it to say every time they see a city bus: "Whale Shark!" He loves to repeat it and I know he's tilting at windmills and his reflexivity kind of bugs me but I don't correct him,

He's fully resisting the taste of steak with everything he has in his little body because the bus is of the same approximate size of that beneficent ancient most peaceful and magnificent of mammals. I know he christens those buses because he doesn't want them like us to go away.

Still Life Living said...

The Nephilim - party animals until the very end.

Isn't this just the mythical saga of Cain and Abel? Cain being the tiller of the ground and Abel being the enslaver of other living, self locomoting beings. And Cain destroyed the technology of tilling, so his peeps could run free thorough the forests living for carnivorous survival.

Since the story was formally written down, western history has been primarily about the continuation of this story. Anyone living close with the anima must be converted, controlled or erradicated. This is the great story, the one genre that has not been challenged.

At what point will the lamb and the lion lie down together? Is Jesus the lamb? If so, who is the lion?

Woof! Woof!

Still Life Living said...

Bee,

One evolutionary benefit of human beings is the ability to run upright. If you watch David Attenborough's BBC series on Mammals, the human segment in particular, he goes into the bush with famed-trackers of the Kalahari bushmen while they hunt a kudu in what is called "persistence hunting". They litterally chase the animal until it dies. Sometimes up to 20 miles in 120 degree heat.

The reason the animal dies and not the human is because the animal's back is exposed to the hot sun while the human is upright. The animal dies not of exhaustion, but rather because its blood is beginning to boil.

Still Life Living said...

As an aside, in the video, Attenborough missed filming the death scene and asked the hunter to do the same thing the very next day, run down a kudu in 120 degree temp so they could film the sacramental killing of the beast. (Or so it was related to me by Mark Elbroch who undertook professional tracking certification in Namibia with the very hunter in the video.)

Also, Marc, you talk about the caloric intake. I have heard a lot of people in the wilderness movement claim that wild foods have much better calories, so you need many fewer calories (both meat and plant) if truely natural or wild.

Also, the book 1491 claims some meso-ameircan civilizations (such as Teotihuacan) had cities with over a million inhabitants prior to the great european road trip. So it is possible that plague could have decimated populations. I mean, why was europe the only place with densities large enough for plauges to rip through? I am sure India and China had towns as big as europe, why not the noble savages?

Ah, they didn't get to right the history. Yet they still try to recover the land that Pancho Villa stole from father long ago.

Bee said...

Still Life: Wow. I'll have to check out that Attenborough film :) I've seen some of his series on birds, which is a whole other fascinating evolutionary discussion.

Marc: tee-heeing over "whale shark" :)

MarcLord said...

SLL,

thanks for sharing. what the fuck are you talking about? i mean i probably know what but maybe not and if attenborough did a show on mammals being run down by bipeds i didn't see it on your tv and if it was on neanderthals bring it on. so i think you mean his mammals shows.

when we killed meat we had to cook it because if it was raw the tendons fascia and lectins took too much effort to digest wild or not they had to be cooked and therefore the neanders also projected the gift of fire. tinders flints and bow drills.

as for concentration of population McKenna i think talks about Catal Huyuk and that was the only place found on high ground back to 10,000 BC. For the other places you have to look under water before the ice retreated and they've not been discovered explored or excavated yet. Despite being there.

MarcLord said...

Bee,

may you be afflicted with such a creative and domineering child. and i mean that, it's a wild ride and there are many buses here. whale shark! whale shark!

Still Life Living said...

ML

bilocation can also be temporal, even if you are not aware. Awareness is always better, and that is why Saint Reed said on magic and loss "when you pass through fire, you've got to remember its name."

This is no different than a songline, where we remember our journeys out of the mothership and the way back by creating songlines. The aboriginals are right on this one. We have to accept their technology regardless what your byu professor said about the Illyad and Odessey.

It is the thread, it is the meme. You can't thread a needle without thread. The thread is humanistic intelligence and expansive awareness. A rich person does not have the time to braid the golden or sliver cord (greek = camel) through the astral needle. The rich have to pay others to learn their songlines, and it doesn't get them past boo. That's all.

Still Life Living said...

ML

bilocation can also be temporal, even if you are not aware. Awareness is always better, and that is why Saint Reed said on magic and loss "when you pass through fire, you've got to remember its name."

This is no different than a songline, where we remember our journeys out of the mothership and the way back by creating songlines. The aboriginals are right on this one. We have to accept their technology regardless what your byu professor said about the Illyad and Odessey.

It is the thread, it is the meme. You can't thread a needle without thread. The thread is humanistic intelligence and expansive awareness. A rich person does not have the time to braid the golden or sliver cord (greek = camel) through the astral needle. The rich have to pay others to learn their songlines, and it doesn't get them past boo. That's all.

Still Life Living said...

It looks as if I am bi-posting. kewl.


btw, I had the video when you were here in LA and I could have showed it to you but you didn't want to go to church so I had to punish you. :)

As for the raw meet, dude, I lick raw white bacon with iridescent green slime. You know, that moment when you are wondering if you should really throw it out but you cook it anyway? And afterwards you feel like one of Tolstoy's serfs thrust out into the world. Ah, the smell of freedom isn't for everyone -- as is refracted in the sterile eyes of the zombies.