Rethinking Neanderthals

Research suggests they fashioned tools, buried their dead, maybe cared for the sick and even conversed. But why, if they were so smart, did they disappear?

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But others argue that any encounter was likely to be hostile. “Brotherly love is not the way I’d describe any interaction between different groups of humans,” Shea says. In fact, he speculates that modern humans were superior warriors and wiped out the Neanderthals. “Modern humans are very competitive and really good at using projectile weapons to kill from a distance,” he says, adding they also probably worked together better in large groups, providing a battlefield edge.


In the end, Neanderthals, though handy, big-brained, brawny and persistent, went the way of every human species but one. “There have been a great many experiments at being human preceding us and none of them made it, so we should not think poorly of Neanderthal just because they went extinct,” says Rick Potts, head of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program. “Given that Neanderthal possessed the very traits that we think guarantee our success should make us pause about our place here on earth.”


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