What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a Neanderthal? Most think of a slow, dimwitted, grunting gorilla-like person who allowed themselves to die out and become extinct at the hands of the much smarter breed of modern-day humans. But scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have come to the defense of the Neanderthal and think our notion of stupid Neanderthals is, well, pretty dumb. They say there is really no scientific evidence to support such a belief.
Were Neanderthals really dumb?
Neanderthals lived about 40,000 to 350,000 years ago across the lands of Europe and Asia and are widely believed to have died out after modern-day humans crossed into the area from Africa. Until now, it’s been thought that the modern-day humans were better hunters, better at communication, and generally smarter than their prehistoric buddies. In short, it is believed that humans outsmarted the Neanderthals and simply pushed them to extinction.
Wait a minute, hold on there… Scientists took a close look at about a dozen different common explanations for Neanderthal extinction. For each of the explanations, they then sought hard, scientific evidence to support the belief. Guess what? There was no evidence that the Neanderthals were less intelligent than humans of their day and in fact, much evidence was found that hinted that they were every bit as smart as the humans.
For instance, it was believed that Neanderthals were too dumb to hunt with weapons using any sort of strategy to capture and kill their prey. But evidence from multiple archaeological sites in Europe suggests the Neanderthals hunted in groups and herded bison to their death by steering them into a sinkhole. This meant the Neanderthal could plan ahead, communicate, make use of their surroundings, and think!
Other evidence suggests Neanderthals used other ingenious methods to make their lives easier – they painted their bodies to make it harder for animals to see them (as one Neanderthal said, “it makes me indivisible”) and used a wide variety of tools in their everyday lives.
So the next time a bully passes you in the hall and says, “Get out of the way you little Neanderthal” just smile and understand that you may be a lot smarter than the bully is giving you credit for.