A study* published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests how Neanderthals could have been driven to extinction by competition with modern humans. Archaeologists have hypothesized that competition between Neanderthals and modern humans led to the former’s extinction because modern humans had a more advanced culture than Neanderthals, giving modern humans a competitive edge. Marcus Feldman and colleagues tested the plausibility of this hypothesis using a model of interspecies competition that incorporates differences in the competing species’ levels of cultural development. According to the model, an initially small modern human population could completely displace a larger Neanderthal population, provided that the modern humans had a sufficiently large cultural advantage over the Neanderthals. The minimum modern human population that could displace the Neanderthals decreased with increasing cultural advantage and with a decrease in the rate of cultural change relative to population growth. This minimum population threshold also decreased when the authors introduced a positive feedback loop into the model, such that increasing the size of modern humans’ cultural advantage increased the size of their competitive advantage, which in turn further increased their cultural advantage. The results support the hypothesis that competition with modern humans drove Neanderthals to extinction, due to modern humans’ culture-associated competitive advantage over the Neanderthals.
Neanderthal skull replica. Original recovered in St. Michael’s Cave, Gibraltar. Nathan Harig, Wikimedia Commons
Article Source: Adapted and edited from the subject PNAS press release.
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