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Are You Smarter Than a Neanderthal?

The notion of Neanderthals as our brute, uncivilized, inferior cousins could well be put to rest. New research suggests that humans simply outlasted Neanderthals, and not necessarily because humans were superior. (Image credit: Michael Brace/Flickr)

The notion of Neanderthals as our brute, uncivilized, inferior cousins could well be put to rest. New research suggests that humans simply outlasted Neanderthals, and not necessarily because humans were superior.

In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, [Oren] Kolodny and his colleague Marc Feldman test a more basic hypothesis - that the extinction of the Neanderthals was simply a consequence of population dynamics and bad timing.

It is thought that humans and Neanderthals evolved along a more similar timeline, with the former making tools, jewelry, art, and even performing a type of primitive dentistry.

"It's not that Neanderthals were these brutish, wide-shouldered, sort of advanced apes that roamed the land until we came over and beat them," Kolodny said. "It's more that it was a companion hominin species that was very similar to us."

Using basic principles of ecology and previous understanding of human migration, researchers ran myriad simulations to determine who would be the evolutionary winner even without having a leg up in superiority. Their conclusion was that Neanderthals simply couldn't keep up with the constant arrival of humans into their territories.

It doesn't necessarily prove that humans didn't have a selective advantage, or that climate change didn't influence the Neanderthals' fate, Kolodny cautioned. "But even if there were no selection and no climate change, the end result would have been the same. It's a subtle distinction but it's important."

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