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ICE Case Studies
Number 111, June 2003

Neanderthal and Humans

Long-Term Climate Change, Conflict and Extinction,

Case Background
Environment Aspect
Conflict Aspect
Environment Conflict Overlap
Related Information


1. Abstract

Humans have long been in conflict over resources that are related to the concentration and dispersion of human populations over time. These conflicts were critical to human survival. Humans were in competition with other species - as predator and as prey - but also in competition with other primates since their economic subsistence patterns were more similar. One of the most important intra-humanoid disputes was over environment and conflict with human's closest ancestor - the Neanderthal. Theories about the end of the Neanderthal are controversial and unresolved. There is, however, no question that human beings played a role in their demise. It is also true that humans invaded lands that Neanderthals lived on for several hundred thousand years. Neanderthals survived several ice ages during this period. They could not survive humans.

2. Description

Neanderthals were intelligent hominids nearly equal to humans in intelligence. Perhaps some humans had Neanderthals as acquaintances or as trading partners. The human relation and reaction to the Neanderthal is perhaps also a cautionary tale for how humans might greet hominids from another planet.

The conflict over environmental resources is of course inimical to human nature. Clear evidence for organized human warfare dates back more than nine thousand years, to the early Neolithic Age. It surely existed in the war against the Neanderthals and environment was a key factor in that war at the end of the last Ice Age, perhaps 40,000 BC. Humans spread into Europe during this warming period, in many instances coming into conflict and ultimately displacing Neanderthals. This was not the first time the two groups had met. The encounter between human and Neanderthal probably occurred in the Middle East, no doubt near present day Israel, as both groups expanded during the warming period. Similar to today, this narrow stretch of greenery (the Fertile Crescent) was a corridor for interaction between Asia, Africa and Europe. Over time, humans pushed Neanderthals back into the less hospitable parts of Europe. The Neanderthal retreats often were to lands where the game was not as abundant or the temperatures much colder.

The in-migration of humans into long-standing Neanderthal resource areas (hunting grounds) was an early conflict with environment causes. This inter-humanoid conflict is perhaps like forms of ethnic conflict, with of course broader differences. Researchers document a great die-off of certain mega-fauna after human arrival in the Americas and perhaps the demise of the Neanderthal is evidence of other extinctions associated with our past.

Neanderthals were intelligent primates with customs and rituals and probably systems of communication. They were not the mindless brutes depicted in earlier "scientific" tracts and grade B movies, nor the muscle-bound hulks with hairy backs. These were noble, intelligent creatures. Did humans really kill off our closet relatives? Did we in some loosely organized fashion carry out the genocide of the nearest thing to ourselves?

Perhaps the Neanderthals did not completely die out. Perhaps they live on in the human gene pool. During the thousands of years that humans and Neanderthals lived in close proximity to one another, there were no doubt raids that took females captives as spoils of war (by both sides). Rapes as part of conflict also no doubt occurred. Perhaps children were born to humans that had some Neanderthal genes or vice-versa. Anthropologist Wolpott believes that inter-marriage or at least inter-breeding was common between humans and Neanderthal.

Anthropologists and geneticists disagree on the genetic relation of the human to the Neanderthal. Some believe that Neanderthal was simply another race of humans, perhaps most similar to aborigines from Australia. Others believe Neanderthals were a completely separate species.

[insert map]

The Neanderthal was first discovered in August 1856 by Dr. Johan Karl Fuhlrott, a schoolteacher from the town of Elberfed, near the Dussel River in the western part of Germany. Technically, this was not the first Neanderthal skull ever found. Researchers did not realize until the 1860s, that a skull found in 1848 at Gibraltar was of a Neanderthal. Fuhlrott's find was in a valley called Neader (Tal means valley in German) produced the name. Thus, the site and the creature are known as Neanderthal.

The valley's name comes from a seventeenth century composer, Joachim Neander, best for his well-known religious composition "Praise the Lord, the mighty King of God." The truth is that this was not even his real name. Joachim Neumann, similar to other composers of his time, created a last name, a practice predicated on a classical language meaning. In Greek, Neander translates as "New Man" and thus a suitable choice for Mr. Neumann. How ironic: the find was not the new man, but rather, the old man.

Neanderthal had a long, narrow skull, with a large brain and a bony protrusion over each eye. Physically, the people were stout and strong, with short limbs and digits, and women had birth canals that were similar in size to modern human females. This find, at modern day Israel, was based on a find at the Kabara Cave in Israel by a joint French-Israeli team. The team found a hyoid bone, which links muscles of lower jaw and neck, critical to speaking. This find led some to believe that Neanderthal had language abilities perhaps equal to modern humans. Neanderthals were beyond humans in physical capabilities, being much stronger and more agile. Some contend that Neanderthal possessed modest extra-sensory abilities.

3. Duration: 50,000-25,000 BC

4. Location

Continent: Europe

Region: Western Europe

Country: France

5. Actors: Neanderthal and Humans

The image of Neanderthal as the brute is slowly being replaced, at least in the scientific world, by a more sophisticated and advanced creature with social ties, cultural relations and a people who buried their dead. In a 1953 movie called The Neanderthal Man, a scientist injected himself and his cat with an anti-evolution serum. The cat became a saber-tooth tiger, the scientist a Neanderthal.

The evolving view of Neanderthals says little about them, but of course loads about humans. Neanderthals have not changed, human tolerance has, and this change mirrors a new look at how we view our nearest relatives. As Thomas Henry Huxley believed: the real measure of humanity is evident in our relation to other apes and other primates.

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Climate Change

The Role of Climate Change

7. Type of Habitat: Temperate, then Cool

8. Act and Harm Sites: Global and Canada (present-day)

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Inter-species

Anthropologists generally agree that our species began in Africa and migrated from there to the other parts of the planet. The general belief is that humans came upon areas uninhabited, but in fact, these areas often did have other primate competitors who would and did compete over hunting grounds that provided economic subsistence. The conflict between two primate species occurred through direct warfare and through indirect warfare. The direct conflict was probably a draw - with the greater Neanderthal physical attributes matched by the higher technologies of the humans. Indirect warfare was probably a greater factor as humans proved more adept hunters than the Neanderthals and took more of the game.

Changing climates certainly creates the conditions for conflict as people, their technologies, and their subsistence patterns all tend to intersect. In some cases, these technologies and patterns change and adapt as well over time. In other cases, people simply moved from the changed climate to one that more or less resembles the old climate and therefore the technologies and economic patterns need not change.
It would be wrong to stereotype about Neanderthals. The various finds from East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe show great diversity in form and feature, just as would be found in humans. Neanderthals ranged over a large area and experienced a wide range of climatic variations. They survived until perhaps 50,000 years ago.

10. Level of Conflict: High

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities): Millions

IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Paul Shepard's ideas on conflict and the Agricultural conjunction are compelling, but there is further evidence of early intra-hominoid conflict. Two recent exciting finds demonstrate this: one in Oregon and the other in Italy).
Two hikers found Kennewick Man near the town of Kennewick, Washington, along the banks of the Columbia River, just prior to the point where it meets up with the Snake River. (They said they had gone in via a back entrance to an event with a cover charge, which they wished to avoid, when they found the bones). The hikers stumbled upon the bones that only later were found to be ancient, dating back xxxx years. Little is known about Kennwick Man because of a dispute over who owns the bones. His remains are a matter of dispute between scientists who want to study him and Native Americans who claim him under U.S. Federal Law. There is great debate about his characteristics. There is some preliminary evidence that he was shot with an arrow. His death may be related to territorial hunting claims.

[Update with court ruling.]

The second example is from Europe. Hikers in the Tyrolean Alps happened upon bones later found to be about 5,000 years old. The bones belonged to a man they called "Osti" and were found a close distance within the Italian border. Belonging to Neolithic culture, he was part of a sophisticated socio-economy and technology, as shown by the artifacts with him. He was likely a trader whose ancient path later became Roman roads, today constitutes the main highways and routes for north south trade in Europe. "The copper in the ax probably came from the mountains, which, as the source of valuable metals used to make tools, were "worshiped by miners throughout the world."

Osti's best weapon was his bow-stave made of yew for its flexibility and workability. Many prehistoric bow and arrow systems in Europe relied on the wood of the yew tree. There was also an axe with a yew handle and a copper blade.

Was the Iceman a sacrifice to the gods? Johan Reinhard believes so, and is an "expert on cultures of the Andes, the Himalaya, and other regions and an authority on mummies and ritual sacrifices. Among the many mummies he has discovered is the Inca "Ice Maiden," which was found on the frozen summit of Peru's Mount Ampato in 1995 and determined to be a victim of sacrifice. Mountains are known places of ancient sacrifice since they are said to be nearer to god(s)." Could these have been Neanderthal arrows?

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Multilateral

14. Outcome of Dispute: Conflict Loss

Neanderthals became extinct.

V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases


16. Relevant Websites and Literature

"Did 'Iceman' of Alps Die as Human Sacrifice?" National Geographic News, January 15, 2002. (February print version).


April, 2001