catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Did feminism kill the Neanderthals?

with 27 comments

The Economist summarises a paper that is sure to stir up the ire of the secular evolution-denialists of academia. My title is meant to be tongue in cheek. As The Economist explains, the real story is about the effectiveness of the division of labour, which humans practiced and Neanderthals apparently didn’t. But just wait for some earnest member of the Academy, most probably from the same group that declared a jihad on Larry Summers for that infamous speech to make the argument that this thesis is just sexism dressed up as science and excessively ‘reductionistic’ because of course humans are special :

    NEANDERTHAL man was a strong, large-brained, skilful big-game hunter who had survived for more than 200,000 years in the harsh European climates of the last Ice Age. But within a few thousand years of the arrival of modern humans in the continent, he was extinct. Why that happened is a matter of abiding interest to anthropologically inclined descendants of those interloping moderns. The extinction of Neanderthal man has been attributed variously to his having lower intelligence than modern humans, to worse language skills, to cruder tools, or even to the lack of a propensity for long-distance trade. The latest proposal, though, is that it is not so much Neanderthal man that was to blame, as modern woman.
    In existing pre-agricultural societies there is, famously, a division of food-acquiring labour between men, who hunt, and women, who gather. And in a paper just published in Current Anthropology, Steven Kuhn and Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona propose that this division of labour happened early in the species’ history, and that it is what enabled modern humans to expand their population at the expense of Neanderthals …
    The archaeological record … shows few signs of any specialisation among the Neanderthals from their appearance about 250,000 years ago to their disappearance 30,000 years ago. Instead, they did one thing almost to the exclusion of all else: they hunted big game.
    …Dr Kuhn and Dr Stiner suggest that division of labour actually originated in a warmer part of the world—Africa seems most likely—where plant foods could be gathered profitably all year round. But as humans brought the idea of division of labour north, the female side of the bargain gave the species a significant advantage by providing fallback foods when big game was scarce and allowing more people to inhabit a given piece of land in times of plenty. Modern human populations grew, Neanderthal populations shrank, and the rest is prehistory

Written by Admin

December 11, 2006 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

27 Responses

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  1. They could have interbred mostl likely No?


    December 11, 2006 at 9:18 pm

  2. yeah JC that theory is doing the rounds too

    Large-scale statistical studies from these probable Neanderthal sequences suggest that the number of genes we moderns derive from Neanderthals is few, if any. In other words, all of us trace either nearly all or entirely all of our ancestry from homo sapiens originating in Africa c. 200,000 years ago rather than to Neanderthals that originated some 700,000 years ago. Pretty much what most scientists have thought for the last few decades.

    However, that does not mean humans and Neanderthals didn’t interbreed, and it doesn’t mean that none of us got any important genes from them. There is some fossil evidence from Portugal and Romania suggesting human-Neanderthal hybrids. Even more startling is a study published this month showing that about 70% of modern humans possess a gene for brain development (this paper goes straight for the controversy jugular!) derived from an “archaic species of homo” rather than from our African homo sapiens ancestor. Since the time of “introgression” (cross-breeding between the archaic species and the African-derived modern species, homo sapiens) was about 37,000 years ago, and the gene is overly represented in Europe and Asia but uncommon in sub-Saharan Africa (I warned you about controversy!), it’s a good guess that this gene was a “gift” from a sneaky Neanderthal to the second wave of modern humans to have left Africa, the ancestors of most modern Europeans and Asians. A gift that was positively selected — it replaced its African-derived alternative almost everywhere they were in competition — and with which most of us are now blessed. The Neanderthal DNA sequencing study shows that the African genes won the vast majority of the other competitions

    and let’s not forget our other specimen of interbreeding here

    Jason Soon

    December 11, 2006 at 9:21 pm

  3. Have you seen “Quest for Fire”, Jason?


    December 11, 2006 at 9:53 pm

  4. Nope, what’s that?

    Jason Soon

    December 11, 2006 at 9:57 pm

  5. Where did Rafe’s other post go?

    John Humphreys

    December 11, 2006 at 10:01 pm

  6. I fear he may have accidentally erased it. He emailed me to say he was having problems with it but when I went in to fix it it was gone.

    Jason Soon

    December 11, 2006 at 10:02 pm

  7. It’s a film about neanderthals meeting up with homo sapiens.

    Not universally admired. I liked it.


    December 11, 2006 at 10:31 pm

  8. Great post, Jase.

    Where does Homer fit into the Human tree of evolution then? Was he created, or did he just evolve from another completely unkown species of quadraped?


    December 11, 2006 at 10:32 pm

  9. That link was alright when I submitted it, goddammit.


    December 11, 2006 at 10:33 pm

  10. Homer

    Everyone is asking the same thing. Would you mind if we took a small DNA sample just to quench our curiosity here.


    December 11, 2006 at 10:37 pm

  11. Yeah we didn’t specialise. We sent our sheilas out to fight along with us.

    And we’d give those puny humans a thumping.

    But they kept on coming back with twice the population since they left their sheilas at home to look after the house.

    Which meant of course that their survivors were always getting about with 5 wives each.

    So eventually we were outbred though we seldom lost a rumble.

    Yeah its the specialisation that does it.


    December 11, 2006 at 10:48 pm

  12. Birdy

    Is that why you want all the Muslim Sheilas over here? you think we need more of them for breeding purposes.


    December 11, 2006 at 10:51 pm

  13. No thats all about social cohesion insofar as the next generation will be fully integrated if the migrants mate outside their own ethnic group.

    And its also about the higher ethics. Since it will allow us to have more migrants then we otherwise would have in order to end world poverty and bring love and riches to more individuals lives.

    And plus there is the feminist angle that sheilas everywhere are treated less well then they are here.

    Plus its not just Muslim sheilas or even primarily Muslim sheilas I was talking about. We are a big continent and we can take unattached young maidens from all over the world. We have enough love to go around.

    But be careful if my migration policy comes about. Because some folks might fall back on the Viagra late at night when they have to service their sixth wife even as seven and eight are calling for you.

    And if one gets to greedy I believe blackouts can be a bit of a problem.


    December 11, 2006 at 11:25 pm

  14. There is an echo of the doomed Neanderthal modus operandi in lefty birds criticising pro-natal policies of the kind championed by Peter Costello. Upside: this Neanderthal theory broadly ties in to James Taranto’s theory that non-fecund Western liberals are breeding liberalism out of existence.

    Related: the LP hive recently seemed to agree that white women should feel free to rely on immigrant coloureds to top-up the labour pool. What a narrative arc for modern “progressivism”: onward to the Neanderthal mists of antiquity!


    December 11, 2006 at 11:26 pm

  15. What?

    Mark Bahnisch

    December 11, 2006 at 11:43 pm

  16. You know: the post by tigtog (I think) which argued that pro-natal policies were part of a racist conservative conspiracy to fend off the de-anglicisation of America/Australia. Commenters like weathergirl and others argued immigration was a better way to boost population – a sentiment that reduced the non-anglo immigrants being discussed to the status of breeding stock.


    December 12, 2006 at 2:10 am

  17. Did feminism kill Pinochet?
    Did video kill the radio star?

    But be careful if my migration policy comes about. Because some folks might fall back on the Viagra late at night when they have to service their sixth wife even as seven and eight are calling for you.

    And if one gets to greedy I believe blackouts can be a bit of a problem

    So what you’re saying is that we’re all prone to Yellow Wiggle condition. Beware of the species that can operate a penis and a brain simultaneously!

    Andrew Elder

    December 12, 2006 at 9:06 am

  18. “archaic species of homo”

    Sounds like my old formal logic teacher.


    December 13, 2006 at 11:28 am

  19. He failed.


    December 13, 2006 at 12:08 pm

  20. Don’t be too worried that non-fecund Western liberals are breeding liberalism out of existence.

    Gay children of republicans seem to be taking up the slack



    December 13, 2006 at 12:53 pm

  21. Who’s the dad, Zoe.

    I would love to see the smile wiped off the faces of the Zealots if Rummy was the one who donated the sperm.


    December 13, 2006 at 1:10 pm

  22. Graeme, stop talking to me unless to apologise.


    December 13, 2006 at 1:27 pm

  23. You’ll have to ask Ms Cheney, JC.

    The co-parent is Heather Poe, Ms Cheney’s partner of 15 years.


    December 13, 2006 at 2:08 pm

  24. But who knew Zoe and David Marr were an item?


    December 13, 2006 at 2:24 pm

  25. What on earth do you mean CL? I am guessing that given your recent comments about Marr, I am being accused of homophobia.

    That would be, as you well know, unjustified crap, although I am guilty of stirring you.

    Seems to have worked ; )


    December 13, 2006 at 2:28 pm

  26. Not at all. I was just hoping for some ZoMa goss.


    December 13, 2006 at 2:38 pm

  27. L-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong wait comin’ on that one, dude.

    Although I do think he has a beautiful voice.


    December 13, 2006 at 2:42 pm

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