When modern humans arrived in Europe about 40,000 years ago they made a discovery that would change the course of history.
The continent was already populated by Neanderthals. Recent evidence suggests that they had their own relatively sophisticated culture and technology.
But in a few thousand years, neanderthals disappeared, letting our species continue its expansion to all corners of the world.
Precisely the shape in which They became extinct Neanderthals remain a subject of intense debate among researchers.
The two main explanations given in recent years have been, on the one hand, the conflict with modern humans newcomers and, on the other, the global climate change.
The presence of Neanderthal genetic material in all modern people outside of Africa shows that the two species interacted and they even had sex.
But it is possible that there were other types of interactions as well.
This may have been the face of a Neanderthal. .
Some researchers have suggested that there may be rivalry for resources such as prey and raw materials for making stone tools.
Others have proposed confrontations between the two or even wars, and that this could have caused the disappearance of the Neanderthals.
This idea may seem compelling, given our species’ violent war history.
But prove the existence of a war in those days it was a problematic (though fascinating) area of research.
War or massacre?
New studies continue to point to a war between humans, but finding that evidence is a choppy task.
Only the bones found with wounds weapons can give us a sure clue that there was violence at a given time.
But how can we discern between wounds inflicted in a “prehistoric” war and those of another kind of death?
To some extent, this issue has been resolved by various examples of mass killings, in which entire communities were massacred and buried together at various points in Europe dating from the Neolithic period (about 12,000 to 6,000 years ago, when agriculture emerged).
The preserved skeletons can give us clues about wars in those times. .
For a time, these discoveries seemed to have settled the issue, suggesting that agriculture caused a population explosion and increased tensions between the groups.
However, the finding of hunter-gatherer bones has reopened the debate.
Definition of war
Another problem is how difficult it is to arrive at a definition of war applicable to prehistoric societies without being so broad and vague that you lose consciousness.
As the anthropologist Raymond Kelly argues, although group violence can take place between tribal societies, it is not always considered a “war” by those involved.
For example, in trials for murder, witchcraft, or other perceived social deviance, the “perpetrator” could be attacked by a dozen people.
However, in these societies, acts of war they also often involve a single individual being ambushed and killed by a coordinated group.
There may have been a rivalry for resources such as raw materials to make stone tools. .
In essence, both scenarios appear identical to an outside observer, however, one is considered an act of war and the other is not.
In this sense, war is defined by its social context more than simply by the number of people involved.
A key point is that a very particular kind of logic comes into play when one considers that any member of an opposing group represents their entire community and, therefore, it becomes a “valid target.”
For example, one group might kill a member of another group in retaliation for a raid in which the victim was not involved.
In this sense, war is a state of mind It involves both abstract and lateral thinking and a set of physical behaviors.
So such acts of war can be perpetrated (usually by men) against women and children, as well as against men.
And we have evidence of this behavior among the skeletons of early modern humans.
Drawing of Stone Age men hunting. BY AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY
So what does all this mean for the question of whether modern humans and Neanderthals went to war?
There is no doubt that Neanderthals participated and were the object of acts violent.
The fossils show repeated examples of blunt injuries, mainly to the head.
But many of these vestiges predate the appearance of modern humans in Europe and therefore cannot have occurred during clashes between the two species.
Similarly, among the sparse fossil record of early anatomically modern humans, there are several examples of weapon injuries, but most they date back thousands of years of the disappearance of Neanderthals.
Where we have evidence of violence towards Neanderthals is almost exclusively between male victims.
This means that they are less likely to be due to a “war” and would be more of a confrontation between males.
Although there is no doubt that Neanderthals committed violent acts, it is debatable to what extent they were able to conceptualize “war” in the way that modern human cultures understand it.
Çatalhöyük, in Turkey, is one of the best preserved Neolithic sites. Scott Haddow University of Cambridge
It is certainly possible that violent altercations occurred when members of the small and dispersed populations of these two species came into contact (although we have no conclusive evidence of this), but these they cannot realistically be characterized as a war.
We can see a pattern of injuries related to violence in modern human skeletons from the Upper Paleolithic period (50,000 to 12,000 years ago) and also in the more recent Mesolithic and Neolithic period.
However, it is not entirely clear that Neanderthals follow this pattern.
On the most important question of whether modern humans were responsible for the extinction of NeanderthalsIt is worth noting that Neanderthals in many parts of Europe appear to have become extinct before our species arrived.
This suggests that modern humans cannot be completely guilty, either through warfare or competition for resources.
The first modern Europeans may have been the first humans capable of organized warfare. .
However, what did occur throughout the period was a dramatic and persistent climate change which appears to have diminished Neanderthal preferred forested habitats.
Modern humans, although they had just left Africa, appear to have been more flexible to different environments And thus, they were better prepared to deal with the increasingly cold open habitats that may have challenged the Neanderthals’ ability to survive.
So although the first modern Europeans may have been the first humans capable of conducting organized warfareWe cannot say that this behavior is responsible or even necessary for the disappearance of Neanderthals.
They may have simply been victims of natural evolution of our planet.
* Martin Smith is Senior Scholar in Biological and Forensic Anthropology at Bournemouth University, UK. John Stewart is Associate Professor of Evolutionary Paleontology at Bournemouth University, UK.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
You can read the original version here.
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