The word “Neanderthal” is often used as an insult or in a derogatory sense, indicating that the person it refers to is rude, dirty, impulsive and unintelligent. And do most people believe that Neanderthals, one of the different human species that inhabited the earth and became extinct during prehistoric times, had very limited cognitive ability, a sort of savage who couldn’t compete with ‘Homo sapiens belong.
But is this really the case? Are Homo sapiens smarter than Neanderthals? In this article, we will do a brief reflection on this topic.
Who were the Neanderthals?
Neanderthals are an extinct species of the genus Homo (i.e. one of the human species) which they lived mainly in Europe and Asia around 230,000 to 28,000 years ago. It is the last species of the genus Homo to go extinct, leaving Homo sapiens as the sole survivor of this part of the tree of biological evolution. This species shared Indo-European territories with Homo sapiens for thousands of years, until for reasons still unknown today, they finally became extinct.
Neanderthals were physically highly adapted to living in cold, mountainous environments such as those of the Ice Age in Europe. He was smaller and much stronger and more muscular than the sapiens, and had a shorter pharynx and a wider nose. He also had a larger skull, in which the double ciliary arch (a kind of bony covering that covers the eyebrows) and prognathism stand out, as well as greater cranial capacity.
Popular culture has often placed this species under modern Homo sapiens, associating it with an image of savagery and considering its lower limbs or less adapted due to the fact that they eventually became extinct. But that doesn’t mean they were or lacked intelligence.
Neanderthal intelligence tests
The truth is that Neanderthals were not dirty without intelligence. This human species, which was in fact close to being called Homo stupidus (Ernst Haeckel came to propose such a name for this species after its discovery), in fact had a fairly high level of cognitive ability. And there is a lot of evidence that deserves to be considered very intelligent creatures.
They have been observed in different sites where there is evidence that Neanderthals they buried their dead, Which implies the ability to perceive themselves as differentiated beings and the presence of an abstract thought. They also mastered fire and made intricate tools, though different from those our ancestors would eventually use, and remnants of dyes were found that could have been used to dye clothes.
Although until recently it was believed that they had left no artistic representations, the antiquity of some cave paintings (before the arrival of Homo sapiens) seems to indicate that they also made artistic products of this. type, which would indicate the capacity for abstraction and symbolization.
They had a social structure and there is evidence that they took care of the elderly and the sick. Their anatomical structure and cerebral capacity make them considered to possess the ability to use oral language. It has also been observed in archaeological sites different from those of Neanderthals. they used different hunting strategies, often using the characteristics of the terrain for this. It involves the ability to plan, summarize and judge, as knowledge of the environment and the advantages and disadvantages of certain geographic features, such as wells and ravines, is required.
More or less intelligent than Homo sapiens?
The fact that Neanderthals possessed intelligence is not sufficient proof that our cognitive capacity cannot be greater. However, the opposite also does not have demonstrable empirical evidence. The behavior of one species or another was similar, and only the disappearance of the Neanderthals is used as evidence of their lower mental capacity.
In fact, the cranial capacity of these humans (remember that since we are part of the genus Homo) is on average higher than that of Homo sapiens, also being the larger brain. While this does not necessarily indicate superior intelligence (since just because a brain is bigger does not necessarily imply that it is more efficient), it does indicate that brain capacity could allow cognitive ability to develop. His nervous system, however, might function differently from ours, which would lead to different ways of thinking and seeing the world.
Possible reasons for its extinction
Many people believe that if Neanderthals went extinct and we stayed here, it was, at least in part, because the cognitive ability of Homo sapiens allowed him to deal with issues and inconveniences that Neanderthals did. , in principle more primitive, could not cope. But the truth is, the fact that we’ve survived so far doesn’t have to be the result of greater intelligence. There are many reasons that led to the demise of Neanderthals, some of which are empirically contrasted.
One of the possible reasons is found in a phenomenon that has been repeated countless times throughout history, among members of the same species who have lived in different ecosystems: the transmission of diseases for which members of the other party are not prepared. An example of this is found in the conquest of America by the Europeans; these involuntarily brought to the American continent diseases for which the natives had no type of resistance or immunity, causing great quantity of deaths (being transmitted quickly in the big cities and establishments and expletando to the native population). Something similar could have happened in Neanderthals before the arrival of Homo sapiens.
Another reason and probably one of the main ones is inbreeding, a fact corroborated by science. Neanderthals, in those cold days of Europe, they tended to create small social groups in which related people coexisted to some extent, breed with these so that there is a high level of inbreeding. In the long term, this practice gradually weakened the species by adding harmful mutations and genetic alterations and not incorporating new genetic material, to the point that over time new healthy and fertile Neanderthals were born.
Cromanyon’s man, on the other hand, traveled great distances and often had to move to hunt, a mobility that allowed him not to have such a high level of inbreeding when he found other colonies and not inbreeding. .
It should also be noted that Neanderthals they were adapted to Europe and tended to look for caves to take refuge from the cold, Caves often sought after and inhabited by predators they have had to face.
Finally, although we primarily imagine the extinction of Neanderthals as a process in which they all eventually died, there is the theory that their extinction in fact might have to do with hybridization. Homo sapiens has become very numerous in relation to the number of Neanderthals, and can lose the species by diluting its genes at the intersections between Neanderthals and sapiens. This is consistent with the fact that modern humans have genes that belong to Neanderthals.
Neanderthal genes in modern humans
Another aspect that may be relevant to comment on is the fact that in the genes of present-day homo sapiens sapiens have been found Homo neanderthalensis DNA remains and remains. This implies that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens came to produce offspring fertile, and that they actually share part of our heritage with this other species. In fact, some recent researchers estimate that humans today possess about 2% of Neanderthal genetic material, and a much higher percentage than early studies seemed to indicate.
Some of the genes that were found to be similar to those in this species have to do with skin and hair color (possibly lighter in Neanderthals), tolerance to solar radiation (higher in Neanderthals, who lived in Europe before the emigration of “ homo sapiens. from Africa), atmosphere and circadian rhythms. Many of them are also linked to the immune system, Thanks to which we can defend ourselves against infections and diseases. Although, on the other hand, links of some of these genes have also been found with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders, autoimmune issues, cholesterol, and fat accumulation.