Metabolism, Violence, and Our Inner Neanderthal

Geneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology is making rounds with a study that suggests we interbred with Neanderthals. Here’s a video where he explains his research:

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Here’s another paper that suggests humans and neanderthals never mixed. (Gated abstract).

Neanderthals disappeared about 25,000 years ago, and no one’s entirely sure why. However, one of the more popular ideas is that when the last ice age ended their metabolism failed them miserably. Neanderthals were short and stocky and well adapted for cold-weather. They hunted large animals and ate almost no fruits or vegetables. They were probably crappy foragers. They seemed to eat a lot of antelope, rhinoceros, reindeer, and mammoths.  

When it got nice outside their prey got smaller and started to cover more distance. Homo sapiens are much better distance runners and scavengers, and could survive on about 1,000 less calories a day. We crowded into their space, and since we could live on twigs and berries and they couldn’t, we evenutally put them out of business.

A more sobering hypothesis is that they became extinct due to human violence:

One of science’s most puzzling mysteries – the disappearance of the Neanderthals – may have been solved. Modern humans ate them, says a leading fossil expert.

The controversial suggestion follows publication of a study in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences about a Neanderthal jawbone apparently butchered by modern humans. Now the leader of the research team says he believes the flesh had been eaten by humans, while its teeth may have been used to make a necklace. 

Yipes!

I prefer to believe they went away because they didn’t eat their vegetables.

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