Caveman Digest – WIF Ancient History

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Theories About

Why the

Neanderthals

Died Out

Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis… or, humans and Neanderthals… started to diverge from a common ancestor, Homo erectus, about 700,000 years ago. Then our species completely branched off about 300,000 years ago.

On average, Neanderthals were shorter than humans and they had a stockier build. They also had angled cheekbones, prominent brow ridges, and wide noses. Like humans, they used tools, controlled fire, and buried their dead. Also, while they are often depicted as dumb, savage brutes, researchers believe they were as intelligent as humans.

They lived in Eurasia, from about Spain to western Siberia, and while the date of their extinction is debated, it’s believed that they died out somewhere between 30,000 to 42,000 years ago. Why they went extinct is one of the biggest mysteries in evolutionary science. So why did our ancestral cousins die out?

10. We Were Better Hunters

The Neanderthals went extinct not long after humans migrated out of Africa into Eurasia. Since the Neanderthals ruled Europe for so long before the arrival of humans, and suddenly died off after coming into contact with them, it has led researchers to believe that humans were somehow responsible, at least in part, for the extinction.

One theory as to how humans drove Neanderthals to extinction was because we were better hunters. This became a problem because, with only a limited amount of food, there would have been competition for it. Since we’re here and they aren’t, it would suggest that we were better hunters and got most of the food. This would have caused the Neanderthal population to plummet, while the human population would have gone up.

9. Humans Violently Replaced Them

Throughout history, groups of humans have had a tendency to kill, enslave, or conquer other groups of people who are different from them. Why would prehistoric humans be any different when they came into contact with the Neanderthals?

When humans migrated out of Africa, they may have been more aggressive and more violent than the Neanderthals because that was advantageous to their hunting style. Meanwhile, it’s believed that the Neanderthals were less violent because they didn’t hunt in the same way. Instead of hunting and chasing down big animals, to get their protein they ate insects.

If they were more peaceful by nature, the Neanderthals would have been unable to fight off the growing population of violent human brutes who invaded their territory.

8. Volcanic Eruption

An event that can have profound effects on the Earth is the eruption of a large volcano. When a volcano erupts, millions of cubic tons of ash and debris can be put into the atmosphere and this alters the climate of the Earth by making it cooler, because less sun reaches the Earth.

Well 39,000 years ago, around the same time that the Neanderthals started to go extinct, the Campi Flegrei volcano west of Naples, Italy had a massive eruption. It was the biggest eruption in Europe in 200,000 years and 60 cubic miles of ash was pumped into the atmosphere.

This would have had devastating effects on the Neanderthals. The sun would have been blotted out for months, if not years. This would have cooled temperatures in Europe and it would have brought acid rain. These types of conditions would have made the environment inhospitable to the Neanderthals, causing them to die out. As the ash dispersed and the Neanderthals were dying off, humans would have moved into Europe with little resistance.

7. Humans Hunted With Wolves

Around the time that the Neanderthals went extinct, there were three top predators competing for food in Europe: the Neanderthals, humans, and wolves. According to anthropologist Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University an alliance between the wolves and the humans led to the extinction of the Neanderthals. His theory is that humans were able to tame and breed wolves. These wolf-dogs would have been used to get large animals, like mammoths, cornered so humans could finish them off. Cornering the animal was the most dangerous part of the hunt.

Also, when humans would bring down the animals and started to cut it apart, they would had to fight off scavengers, but the wolves would have been able sense scavengers from longer distances and they would have scared them off. Then the humans would feed the wolves and this would have been a win-win situation for the two top predators.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the Neanderthals used wolves to hunt. Without their help, prey would have been more dangerous to hunt and they would have to exert more energy while hunting, meaning they needed more food to sustain themselves. This would have made it hard for the Neanderthal population to maintain and grow their population, especially when two of their competitors teamed up to fight for the same resources that they needed.

6. Humans Had More Culture

According to a mathematical model from Stanford University, the reason that humans are still around and the Neanderthals aren’t is that humans had a high level of culture. By having a stronger culture, they would have been able to hunt and gather food over a larger area than the Neanderthals. This culture would have also led to better tool-making skills, which would allow them to make better weapons. For example, an ax would have been an incredibly useful tool and a devastating weapon.

According to their model, a small population of humans with a high level of culture could have overwhelmed a large population of Neanderthals who were less cultured.

5. The Division of Labor

The Neanderthals didn’t have the most complex diet. They were known to hunt big game animals, which was a dangerous task. They also hunted differently than humans. Neanderthal men, women, and juveniles would get involved with the hunt. Humans, on the other hand, developed tasks based on gender and age. This division of labor allowed them to collect a variety of different foods, and then they could process and cook it.

Being able to eat a variety of cooked food would have given humans an evolutionary edge in two ways. The first is that there would been more sources for food. Secondly, the more complex diet of cooked food not only allowed humans to survive, but it also helped in the evolution of the human brain and helped make it what it is today.

4. Neanderthals Had Smaller Frontal Lobes

One of the prevailing misconceptions surrounding the Neanderthals is that we were smarter than them. However, researchers believe their brains were just as big as humans’, but they were built differently. Neanderthal brains were designed to control their large bodies and to track movement. Humans had larger frontal lobes, which is the region of the brain where decision-making, social behavior, creativity, and abstract thought are controlled. In the long run, these qualities probably gave us an evolutionary edge compared the Neanderthals.

For example, by using abstract thought, humans realized that by processing food, like smashing up cooked yams, it would have saved energy during the eating process because you need less energy to chew your food. This is especially important when raising children. Secondly, the frontal lobe would have been helpful in spreading new technology quickly. With a larger frontal lobe it would have been easier for humans to teach each other, and to learn. Also, thanks to the large frontal lobe, early humans saw the benefit in forming large social groups, and these large groups would have made technology easier to spread across the species.

By saving energy on everyday tasks like eating, and utilizing technology, it would have given us an evolutionary edge that allowed us to survive while the Neanderthals went extinct.

3. The Weather Change Changed Their Habitat

An argument against the replacement theory is that humans had nothing to do with the extinction of the Neanderthals. After all, humans first left Africa about 100,000 years ago and moved into the Middle East, and then about 60,000 years ago they made it to Australia. However, humans only migrated into Europe, the Neanderthal’s homeland, 45,000 years ago. The question is, why did humans travel all the way down to Australia before getting to Europe, which is essentially around the corner from the Middle East? This suggests that humans may have only been able to move in when the Neanderthals were already dying off.

So why were they dying off? Well, drastic weather change could have been the culprit. When the Neanderthals went extinct, the last Ice Age was coming to an end and Eurasia was experiencing unstable weather patterns which dramatically changed the landscape. For example, in Italy around the time the Neanderthals went extinct, forests morphed into open plains over the span of 100 years. The Neanderthal body simply couldn’t evolve fast enough to survive in the new landscape.

The problem was that the Neanderthals hunted in the forest. They used the trees as cover and then they clubbed or stabbed prey. Their bodies simply weren’t built to sneak up on fast moving and dangerous game animals in the newly developed open plains.

Humans, on the other hand, were used to grasslands and open fields because that was the terrain in Africa where humans evolved and strived. With the Neanderthal population dwindling and the landscape becoming advantageous to humans’ skills, our ancestors simply moved into the area.

2. Disease Wiped Them Out

Why the Neanderthals lived for tens of thousands of years in Eurasia, but died out about 1,000 to 5,000 years after coming into contact with humans, is one of the most debated topics in anthropology. The obvious conclusion is that humans had something to do with the extinction, but no one is sure how or why humans caused it.

One theory is that when the Neanderthals moved out of Africa and settled in Eurasia, their immune system developed to deal with that environment. However, when humans migrated out of Africa, they brought African pathogens with them and these caused diseases like tuberculosis, herpes, tapeworms, and stomach ulcers. The Neanderthals’ immune systems simply couldn’t deal with the diseases and they went extinct. Yes, you read that right. Humans gave the Neanderthals herpes and it killed them.

Evidence to back this up is that this is what happened when Europeans came to the Americas starting in 1492. When they came, they brought diseases like smallpox and malaria, and this was devastating to people in the Americas. Since the Native Americans’ immune systems weren’t developed to combat the diseases, it’s estimated that 20 million Native Americans were killed in the years following contact with the Europeans, which was nearly 95 percent of the population in the Americas.

1. They Assimilated With Humans

One theory surrounding the fate of the Neanderthals is that there was no death blow. They simply assimilated with humans by interbreeding. For any of the reasons listed in the other entries on this list, or quite possibly because of a combination of them, the population of Neanderthals became drastically low. However, instead of all of them dying off, the species was just absorbed by the much bigger human population.

Evidence to back this up is that if you were born outside of Africa, 1.5 to 2.1 percent of your DNA is Neanderthal in origin. However, what’s interesting is that it isn’t the same genes in everyone. For example, if you have 2% Neanderthal DNA and your next door neighbor has 2% Neanderthal DNA, you may not share the same 2%. Researchers think that 20 percent of the Neanderthal genome is still found within humans. So they never exactly went extinct; instead, their DNA just became part of the modern human genome.


Caveman Digest –

WIF Ancient History

Climate Change For Dummies – WIF Mad Science

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Bizarre “Solutions”

to Climate Change

Fighting climate change – a widely-used euphemism for the ongoing climate catastrophe – is humanity’s biggest priority at this point. Or at least it should be, as most governments of the world are simply not bothered with something that may as well be the end of our species. It’s not even like we have to do impossible things to stop it; many scientists are of the opinion that if we just come together and take certain measures (like stick to treaties like the Paris agreement), we could avert the worst effects of it.

Though in usual human style, we’re busy thinking up other creative (and often outlandish) ways of trying to prevent this calamity, rather than actually joining hands and fixing what we’ve collectively broken. Here are some of the most bizarre potential solutions we’ve come up with to the biggest question facing humanity right now: how do we tackle climate change?

10. Blot Out the Sun

There are some definite reasons as to why things have gotten as bad as they are when it comes to ever-rising global temperatures. One of the biggest is greenhouse emissions. Nearly all industries around the world are responsible for it, and if countries like China look like major contributors to it right now, it’s only because the polluting stages of most developed countries are already in the distant past.

There are other culprits, too, though something that’s definitely not responsible is the existence of the sun. In some weird leap of reason, however, some scientists have concluded that it’s the sun that’s the whole problem, and are now looking for feasible ways to block it in order to cool the Earth down. They’re already planning experiments to inject chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the intensity of its rays, and while many other experts have warned against the adverse effects of literally dimming our primary source of energy, it looks like they’re going ahead with trying it out anyway.

9. Smaller Children

Even if the majority of the pollution and global warming is caused by industries, we all contribute to it in tiny ways. Every one of us has a carbon footprint, no matter how many plastic bottles we give up or online petitions against climate change we sign. Of course, our individual footprints aren’t nearly as large as, say, the oil industry, so as long as we do our part in living sustainable, things should be fine.

For some scientists though, the best way we can reduce our carbon footprint is by reducing the size of people themselves. In a research paper, some scientists argue that genetically engineering our babies to be smaller will go a long way in helping the environment. It seems that they came up with this by solving the incredibly complex ‘big people = big pollution’ equation. It may even work, though we think that there might be better ways of doing this without the whole eugenics vibe.

8. Cow Farts as Fuel

Vegans may be annoying, though they aren’t entirely wrong. The meat industry is actually quite a huge producer of greenhouse emissions, and cutting down on our meat consumption may really help with global warming. Some of the animals bred for consumption produce particularly harmful gases like methane, which is much deadlier than your usual carbon dioxide and such. Take cows, who account for 25 percent of all methane emissions in the world. Instead of cutting down on meat consumption, though, some scientists have come up with what they think is a better way: collecting their farts and using it as fuel.

Despite how ridiculous it sounds, it may just be one of the more sensible options on this list, even if we’re yet able to fully figure out the logistics of how it would work. Argentina has come up with a way to equip its cows with backpacks that collect the farts and convert the methane into fuel powder, which can then be used to power various things on the farm. It may be some time before this plan may actually start yielding results, but it may just be crazy enough to actually work.

7. Build Massive Underwater Walls

The oceans are the focal point in our fight against global warming, as they’re consistently growing warmer due to the rising temperature on the surface. What happens underwater affects us in more ways than we realize, or even yet understand. If we had to find a solution to restore the health of our oceans, we’d probably find ways to dump less plastic and oil into it, and limit our greenhouse emissions to cool the Earth down and stop the now-consistent rise in sea level. Though for the scientists who have given up on those solutions entirely, there’s another possible solution: build enormous walls of concrete underground.

We aren’t just talking about walls you build to keep water out of your farm; these would be gigantic underwater structures – starting from the ocean floor – to stop warm water from going near glaciers to halt their melting, and generally isolate the effects of warming to certain sections of the ocean. Who would build those walls? Robots, of course, as humans still aren’t the best at building structures at the depths we’re talking about.

6. Artificially brighten clouds

One of the most alarming parts of the whole climate change debate is how little time we have to be sitting around and having debates about it in the first place. Scientists have given us till 2050 to cut down our carbon emissions to zero if we’re going to even have a chance at reversing its worst effects. And we have the solutions, suggested by those same scientists, if only we could stick to them.

As we can’t really come together to do that, some scientists have more drastic solutions for the problem, one of them being artificially brightening clouds to reflect more sunlight back into the sky (as dark surfaces absorb the heat). There are many proposed ways to do it, like injecting salt into the clouds, or making whole new clouds of our own.

Yes, we’re talking about the same huge floating things found in the sky around the world, and yes, they realize the enormity of the task. It’s a part of a new type of potential solutions to global warming known as sunlight reflection methods (SRM). This is actually one of the more sensible plans, as others include painting the mountains white – instead of, you know, doing something to maintain the natural white of the ice currently melting off of them – or launching massive mirrors into orbit.

5. Cover Buildings with Slime

Even though industries – like oil and mining – are hugely responsible for climate change, they’re only a part of the problem. Modern civilization is inherently built to take from the Earth to thrive rather than coexisting with it, even though there have been many civilizations in the past that knew how to combine sustainability with economic development. Of course, we can take notes from them and start rearranging how we plan our cities and architecture, or we can find ways to keep them as is, with some modifications.

According to researchers from U.K.’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, one of those ways is covering our buildings with algae. It’s not a bad idea per se, as it’s not like they’d just throw algae on the side of buildings and hope it sticks. It would be contained in huge tubes running throughout the length of the buildings, and could help by reducing CO2 levels in the air with photosynthesis. It’s obviously too expensive to do right now, and they’re looking into ways they could make it cheaper.

4. Sin Tax on Meat

As we said above, the meat industry is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse emissions in the world, and if something could be done about it, it’d go a long way in our fight against climate change. We’re not exactly asking everyone to go vegan overnight, but rather collectively coming up with more sustainable practices that could help reduce that.

Some of those solutions are more radical than the others, though — one of them being a sort of a sin tax on the consumption of meat, similar to what we have on products like tobacco and alcohol. An investor group called Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) thinks that governments would start considering this sooner than we expect, and has already started taking measures to invest in more sustainable meat-producing ventures.

Other studies have also suggested a similar tax on meat due to its overwhelming contribution to global warming, and we can’t argue with their reasoning: they tried asking us nicely first.

3. Kill the Camels

Different countries have come up with their own solutions to global warming, each according to how rich they are and how they’re contributing to it. Where countries like India and China are drastically reconsidering the way their industries work, other countries at a higher risk of drowning due to rising sea levels – like Malaysia – have taken to being nicer to other nations, in the hopes that we’d do something about the problem a bit faster.

Australia’s assessment of the situation, on the other hand, is rather focused – they think it’s all because of those pesky camels. In case you didn’t know, yes, Australia has camels. It actually has so many that it sends some to Saudi Arabia whenever they’re a bit short. According to an increasingly-popular opinion in Australia, eradicating camels should solve climate change for the foreseeable future, as they’re one of the biggest producers of methane, and are generally looked down on as pests. While that may be true, if we go by that, we should just kill all the animals in the world, as most of them produce methane. The camels need protection from changing climate as much as we do.

2. Turn CO2 into Rocks

Iceland – and Scandinavia in general – has been particularly worried about climate change, as it’s one of the few countries that will feel its worst effects before most other nations due to its proximity to the Arctic. It’s also one of the more technologically advanced countries in the western world, and has been trying to come up with creative solutions to tackle the problem with the tech that it has.

It may sound a bit weird, though from all the items on this list, it may just end up having the most impact. The University of Iceland – along with a bunch of other researchers – has come up with a way to turn CO2 emissions into rocks, and store them underground so it’s never released back into the air. If you’re asking ‘well why don’t we just do that then’, you should know that it’s not easy to do. It takes CO2 emissions from an industrial facility, mixes it with water and sends it to another facility, which in turn dumps it deep into the Earth. The fizzy liquid mixes with the basalt in the ground, and turns into rocks within a few months, and the technology that can do it is expensive and only proven to be effective at one facility.

1. Resurrecting Animals

If a lot of our efforts to stop climate change are focused on saving the Arctic, it’s because of a more pressing reason beyond maintaining the natural ice cover. It’s believed that a lot of greenhouse gases – worse than what we already have in the atmosphere – are buried deep beneath the Arctic permafrost, and its thawing could release them in the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming.

According to a group of scientists at Harvard, the best way to do that would be by resurrecting the woolly mammoth. The ongoing theory is that the mammoths will do regular mammoth things – like running around, trampling trees and shrubs and generally having a good time – which would help increase the grass cover. Grass, as we know, absorbs less heat than other plants, and could theoretically stop the thawing of the permafrost over a long enough period of time. Though to be honest, we really don’t think we have that long, as mammoth resurrection is still quite a bit in the distant future.


Climate Change For Dummies

WIF Mad Science