Research NewsPaleoanthropology

Did Neandertals Lose an Evolutionary "Arms" Race?

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Science  14 Jun 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5268, pp. 1586-1587
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5268.1586


It has been called “The Mystery of Mount Carmel,” a riddle embodied in the ancient humans who lived in caves around this Israeli mountain 40,000 to 100,000 years ago. Neandertals and early modern humans were in these caves at about the same time; they hunted the same prey and used similar tools. But only the moderns survived—and the reason why is the mystery, for their behavior seemed so similar. Now differences are beginning to emerge from the bones. Researchers have found that Neandertals' upper arm bones record more vigorous use, perhaps because they were less efficient at processing food. And their hip bones indicate that Neandertals were more active as children, possibly because they had to follow along with the adults as the group hunted and foraged; early modern society, in contrast, might have been organized differently, allowing youngsters to stay safely in camp with baby-sitters. Both differences might have given the early moderns an evolutionary edge.