Wednesday 23 November 2011

Meet Your Cognitive "Betters," the Neanderthals. Or not.

The Telegraph's headline reads: 
Neanderthals died out because they were too clever for their own good, research  suggests.
This mildly counter-intuitive and credulous-sounding statement was made in reference to a newly unveiled article in the journal Human Ecology. Michael Barton and Julien Riel-Salvatore are claiming that the Neanderthals were actually better at looking after themselves in frigid, ice-age Europe than the modern humans who, most would say, outlived the burly human relatives. Shown below is the image that accompanies the Telegraph article. This glowering, rough-looking individual, it's supposed, is a contributor to the modern human genome [well, maybe not him/her, but nonetheless a member of the same species]. However, say the authors of the piece in Human Ecology, the Neanderthal's physical distinctiveness was, if you will, genetically 'swamped' by the more numerous modern humans. 
From The Telegraph (BBC photo)

Without any credible evidence that, for example, Neanderthals were capable of preparing animal skins to use for clothing (or simply to keep warm), such a  claim makes me chuckle. But for the time being I'll have to give the authors the benefit of the doubt.
     And why not? Any informed comment from me will need to wait until I can get my hands on a reprint. [This being an "Independent Researcher" really sucks. It's not as if we're "independently wealthy," after all, and can afford the cost of a pdf from the publisher every time we see something interesting in the literature!] 
     By the way, I can't resist [and who among my (now) ten faithful 'followers' could blame me?]. The presumed ancestor in the picture lacks nasal cartilage, like all of the other Neanderthal 'mock-ups' we've ever seen. ['Curious,' he said, somewhat coyly.] Perhaps if an anatomically correct illustration had been included in The Telegraph's article the audience would be more reluctant to accept the result of Barton and Riel-Salvatore's modelling of Late Pleistocene Europe population ecology
     Alas, a more fully formed assessment of their argument, courtesy of yours truly, will have to wait. As the ex-Governator of California once famously quipped: "I'll be back" [ deal in depth with this claim].

1 comment:

  1. Actually that picture is merely a sample of Homo Sapiens in some makeup. Really.

    It's not even a true reconstruction, just an actor.


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