Following a study of multiple Neanderthal skulls in comparison with Homo sapiens skulls, some light has been shed on the possible causes for this ancient hominoid’s extinction.
The study released by the Proceedings of The Royal Society B (Biological Sciences) argues that due to the Neanderthal’s larger eyes, their brains were more focused on visual development rather than problem solving and social coordination.
This development was in part due to the long, dark nights in modern day Europe, a region dominated by Neanderthals which encompassed the south coast of England, Central Europe and the Balkans.
“Neanderthals evolved at high latitudes under low light levels,” Eiluned Pearce, lead author on the study and anthropologist at the University of Oxford said. “We thought that they might have larger eyes than contemporary modern humans, who evolved in lower latitude Africa, where light levels are higher.”
By comparison, the frontal lobe of Homo sapiens developed to aid in a more adaptive problem solving complex and social grouping ability. Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were thought to have coexisted and interacted until Neanderthals went extinct about 28,000 years ago.
According to Pearce, the frontal lobes of Neanderthals were devoted to motor cortex which controls movement due in part to their larger body size. The study also argues that an area of the frontal lobe designated for social relationships would have been smaller than that of Homo sapiens.
Pearce said that in terms of eye socket height, breadth, area and volume, the average difference between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens was about 6 millimeters, a 20 percent increase between modern humans and Neanderthals.
Along with larger eyes, the key aspects of their demise included: smaller group size, inability to preserve cultural knowledge and inventions to deal with environmental changes 30,000 years ago.
If you would like to see the transcripts from my interview with Ms. Pearce, comment below.
Do you think the study is conclusive? What are your thoughts on our distant relatives demise?