Long-Distance Trade May Help Explain Why Sapiens Flourished More Than Neanderthals

(p. 47) Sykes explains that Neanderthals were sophisticated and competent human beings who adapted to diverse habitats and climates.

. . .

At the time when they encountered the Neanderthals, Sapiens too lived in small bands, but different Sapiens bands probably cooperated on a regular basis. There is much more evidence for long-distance trade among Sapiens, and spectacular burials like the 32,000-year-old Sunghir graves clearly reflect the combined effort of more than one band.

Large-scale cooperation did not necessarily mean that a horde of 500 Sapiens united to wipe out a band of 20 Neanderthals. Cooperation isn’t just about violence. Sapiens could more easily benefit from the discoveries and inventions of other people. If somebody in a neighboring band discovered a new way to locate beehives, to make a tunic or to heal a wound, such knowledge could spread much more quickly among Sapiens than among Neanderthals. While individual Neanderthals were perhaps as inquisitive, imaginative and creative as individual Sapiens, superior networking enabled Sapiens to swiftly outcompete Neanderthals.

This, however, is largely speculation. We still don’t know enough about the psychology, society and politics of Neanderthals to be sure. Perhaps the most surprising fact in Sykes’s book is that even if we count every bone fragment and every isolated tooth, so far we have found the remains of fewer than 300 Neanderthals.

For the full review, see:

Yuval Noah Harari. “Ancient Cousins.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 47.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Nov. [sic] 9, 2020, and has the title “At Home With Our Ancient Cousins, the Neanderthals.”)

The book under review is:

Sykes, Rebecca Wragg. Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art. London: Bloomsbury Sigma, 2020.

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