In this episode of Human Evolution, written by Colin Barras (New Scientist, 28 July 2011), "Industrial revolution sealed Neanderthals' fate," and interbreeding didn't make much difference:
The last Neanderthals to live in the region are represented by the artefacts known as the Chatelperronian industry, which ended around 40,250 years ago. The first modern humans appeared immediately afterwards and are associated with the Aurignacian industry.
They claim the Neanderthal industry was less efficient.
Comparing the archaeological records of the two industries, Mellars and French found that there were about two-and-a-half times as many Aurignacian sites as Chatelperronian ones. What's more, the size of each Aurignacian site was, on average, twice as large – and in each the quantity of stone tools and animal food remains suggest population density increased about 1.8 times during the transition.
But if third-generation Neanderthal hybrids were moving in and marrying the Aurignacians, that would account …
He suggests it was the sheer weight of numbers of modern humans – probably sustained by better technology and more sophisticated social interactions – that allowed them to muscle the Neanderthals out of existence.
Nits to pick with this episode: The technology was not better, only better adapted to modern human hands. And how do they know about the “more sophisticated social interactions”?
Has anyone noticed that this and the previous "we crowded them out" story of human evolution are just projections of current anxieties about industrialism and population density?
See also: Human evolution: Sadly, there were too many of us. We crowded them out.
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Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.