Slide 49 -
What happened to the Neanderthals? About 35,000 years ago, modern humans came into their territory in western Europe. The modern humans are sometimes called “Cro-magnon”, based on the first archeological site they were found at. Although there is no obvious evidence of conflict, after several thousand years of co-existence, the Neanderthals apparently died out.
Two competing theories. 1. The Neanderthals were the same species as modern humans, and the distinctive Neanderthal type disappeared by interbreeding. This implies that people of today carry Neanderthal genes. 2. Alternatively, the Neanderthals may have been an entirely different species, unable to produce fertile hybrids with modern humans. This implies that people today carry no Neanderthal genes.
Theories are tied up in a larger context. The older theory , called the “Multi-regional hypothesis”, says that all of the human-like creatures that lived in the past two million years or more (including Homo erectus, generally considered to be our ancestral species) are part of the same species, Homo sapiens, and that they evolved worldwide from the primitive forms into the forms we see today. The mechanism for the spread of new genes was a slow process of interbreeding between neighboring groups. This theory suggests that many of today’s populations have lived in the same area of the world for a very long time: the Chinese evolved in China, the Africans evolved in Africa, etc.
The newer theory, called “Out of Africa” says that there have been many different species of human-like creatures, with Neanderthals just one of these species. Modern humans evolved in Africa about 100,000 years ago, then spread out from there. All other human species were eliminated.