I’ve always been fascinated by that time in our distant past when we shared this planet with another sentient species – the Neanderthals. No doubt my initial interest was fueled by Jean M Auel’s incredible books, starting with the “The Clan of the Cave Bears”.
When I was working on my novel, “Vision Speak”, I spent some time researching the evolution of man and the crossroads that our collective species faced at this time 40,000 years ago and what drove us to become an advanced species with mastery over the planet. Early steps toward this seemed to be formed during that crucial period of time in Europe leading into the last ice age. Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” had some interesting information about the evolution of humans, in particular analyzing why some areas of the world progressed at a rapid technological pace while others remained relatively primitive.
Recently, I came across a fascinating BBC series, called “The Human Journey” on this very topic, which I highly recommend. This is available on youtube with the particular episode about humans and Neandertals in Europe at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfIv76FrHDU
Homo neanderthalensis, or the Neanderthals, are a distant cousin on the evolution chain to our species, Homo Sapiens. There is evidence that they arrived in Europe around 800,000 years ago. The earliest Homo Sapiens appeared on the scene in Africa around 160,000 to 200,000 years ago.
The 40,000 year old mystery that anthropologists have been investigating involves the survival of the human race during this time in our history when we co-habited Europe with the other sentient species. When our homo sapien ancestors immigrated to Europe out of Africa, the Neanderthals were already well established there. There is no evidence of warfare between our two species and yet the Neanderthals, who rivaled humans in the areas of brain power and physical strength, eventually became extinct while humanity evolved and prospered. Why? Experts have speculated that a key factor was our wider social networks, as evidenced by spiritual practices and gatherings, icons and artwork, as opposed to the more isolated grouping of Neanderthal populations.
So, our species’ ability to share ideas and connect beyond our immediate social group may have been what allowed us to evolve and thrive even in the face of scarce resources during an ice age.
Yet many have questioned the viability of our species in the centuries to come. Certainly, we’ve all feared where we may be going when we consider the effects of war and oppression, after viewing evidence of human carnage, cruelty, and torture, when we come to understand our growing populations and the effect of our progress on our planet’s diminishing resources.
Perhaps our growing world community enabled by social networking can provide a key to our survival from these dangers.