Homo Collectivus

Collectivism, teamwork, cooperation.

Could these be the traits that allowed Modern humans (Homo sapiens) to drive Neanderthals into extinction and populate the Earth like no other mammal has accomplished?

A couple of years ago, a certain Dr. Daniel Stark offered the following hypothesis:

“Essentially [Neanderthals] were overwhelmed. Forced into the margins. There is evidence of some interbreeding between the two species. That’s why some modern humans have this trace of DNA. But for the most part, the Neanderthals couldn’t compete with Homo sapiens. …. There [was] something unique about the wiring in a human brain that makes us different, special. Even with a bigger brain, Neanderthals lacked that.”

“…. it was culture that did them in. Or the lack of it. For example, one-on-one, in hand to hand combat, the Neanderthal would almost always come out on top. They’d simply pound you into the ground. However, in groups, Homo sapiens had the advantage. They had better communications skills, better sociological skills. They developed culture, group dynamics. They could plan and execute better as a team.”

“[Essentially]  teamwork killed off [Homo neanderthalensis]. The better social skills of [the] Homo sapiens allowed them to coordinate and work together in larger, more cohesive groups; tribes essentially. It was the first step toward the development of modern cultures. Neanderthals were outsmarted, … Especially when it  [came] to hunting big prey. Big game hunting is a big payoff. It feeds more than the hunters. It feeds the village; the kids, the elders, everyone. A team of hunters taking down a large animal yields all sorts of extra benefits compared to a single hunter catching a rabbit. The modern humans had an advantage. Not everybody had to go hunt. Some could stay back and do other things. Not only the obvious things like childcare, but things like pottery, building huts, making weapons, preparing food, making clothing. The larger, coordinated groups of humans could take better advantage of their environment. They could breed faster and more often since they had a better food supply. After some time the Neanderthals were outnumbered and forced into the less hospitable areas of northern Europe. That made it even tougher to survive. Eventually, they died out.”

Now, a hypothesis offered by Dr. Curtis Marean attempts to extend Dr. Stark’s original ideas. In a recent article in the August issue of Scientific American, Dr. Marean postulates that a genetic propensity for cooperation with unrelated individuals primed the modern humans (Homo sapiens) for world domination. This trait, along with the new technology of the throwing spear, gave us the edge over Neanderthals when hunting big game.

Has fiction become fact?

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