Was Behavior Enough to Give Modern Humans an Evolutionary Edge?
Behavior can mean a great many things including activities, performance, actions, manners, etc. A combination of those factors, I believe, would have aided modern humans with an evolutionary edge, but we have to consider what species we’re referring to, which humans had the evolutionary edge over, or the possibility there of.
Since behavior of pre-human hominins is largely determined by their artifacts, and in this case, the tools or technology that were used, we have to compare the archaeological data on record to even venture a guess about fitness of modern humans.
Tools, Technology, and Intelligence
Homo erectus and Homo ergaster both exhibited a mental template for making advanced tools. Consequently, this ability to think abstracting meant a change in intelligence. Furthermore, these tools are an example of how technology evolves, as there was greater efficiency and tools were manufactured for specific tasks. If we consider Homo erectus and modern humans, we can see the modern skeleton erectus had permitted long distance walking and endurance, increasing its range and efficiency. Also, Homo erectus has an average brain size 2x of australopithecines, which is within the range of modern humans.
Homo erectus technology continued essentially unchanged for 1.4 million years. The lack of innovation clearly demonstrates that Homo erectus had very different intellectual capabilities than modern humans.
While I agree intellectual capabilities were quite different with Homo erectus, I can’t help but wonder, if they chose to maintain or conserve the technology they had, maybe they did it because it was highly efficient and didn’t need to be altered. The next best thing doesn’t always mean it’s the best, it just means it has a different name.
Neanderthals vs Modern Humans
The documentary Becoming Human gives us a glimpse into Neaderthalensis life, stating this species was hardly less evolved than modern humans. The mystery remains, however, why did they disappear if they were just as evolved as modern humans? We do know Neanderthals were isolated in a cold climatic region that resulted in a muscular stocky frame, huge maxillary sinuses and a large nose able to process oxygen more efficiently.
Cathy Willermet, a Ph.D candidate from Arizona State University, seems to believe Neanderthals were blending with modern humans, as evidenced at a site in Croatia. The Neanderthals found had facial characteristics analogous to modern humans.
Extinction of Neanderthals Caused By Modern Human Behavior?
There’s no evidence that suggest humans were behaviorally more adapted to the new environment in the beginning. Since they had previously migrated from the tropical savannah, they needed the time to evolve their economical and ecological strategies.
What we do know, as stated in Becoming Human, is there is no evidence for conflict between the Neanderthals and modern humans. Technological evidence of evolved behavior (spearheads, bow and arrows) did not show up until later.
Furthermore, Neanderthal behavior was quite similar to ours, in that, they buried their dead (as evidenced at Iraqi site of Shanidar cave) and used fire, probably had language, hunted big game on the tundra, and had well developed tools and material culture.
Since the behaviors between these two species is so similar, assuming Neanderthals went extinct because of modern human behavior is inconceivable, almost laughable. Why? There is little evidence to suggest this hypothesis. There are opinions and models, however.
The Out of Africa model of human origins implies that modern humans "out-thought" their archaic human (i.e., Neanderthal) peers and in this way had greater reproductive success.
So, the question remains, would behavior have been enough to give modern humans an evolutionary edge over other species?
Although modern humans had some form of belief system (afterlife) and started to create artworks like figurines, well, this doesn’t exactly conclude the notion that they had an evolutionary edge. It may just mean they preferred staying indoors, making crafts, reveling in their creations, and being more sedentary. In a sense, BEING LAZY!
At the same time, Neanderthals were hunting large terrestrial animals and taking more risks to feed their families. Neanderthals may have felt they needed to prove their fitness by out hunting their modern neighbors, therefore more risks at that time resulted in larger death tolls.
Based on the evidence I’ve provided, behavior would not have been enough to give modern humans an evolutionary edge. What do you think?
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