Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Neanderthals failed to adopt division of labor? :: NYT

Unlike modern humans, who had developed a versatile division of labor between men and women, the entire Neanderthal population seems to have been engaged in a single main occupation, the hunting of large game, the scientists, Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner, say in an article posted online yesterday in Current Anthropology.
. . .
Neanderthal sites include no bone needles, no small animal remains and no grinding stones for preparing plant foods. So what did Neanderthal women do all day?

Their skeletons are so robustly built that it seems improbable that they just sat at home looking after the children, the anthropologists write. More likely, they did the same as the men, with the whole population engaged in bringing down large game.

The meat of large animals yields a rich payoff, but even the best hunters have unlucky days. The modern humans of the Upper Paleolithic, with their division of labor and diversified food sources, would have been better able to secure a continuous food supply. Nor were they putting their reproductive core — women and children — at great risk.
. . .
Because modern humans exploited the environment more efficiently, by having men hunt large game and women gather small game and plant foods, their populations would have outgrown those of the Neanderthals.

Dr. Stiner said that in her view there was not time for [Neanderthals] to change their culture. “Although there may have been differences in neurological wiring,” she said, “I think another very important key is the legacy of cultural institutions about social roles.”
If social institutions were easy to change, then the Neanderthals could have imitated the institutions they would have witnessed in encroaching hunter-gatherers. There is another - they were just too dumb:
A rival hypothesis proposed by Richard Klein of Stanford University holds that some cognitive advance like the perfection of language underlay the burst of innovative behavior shown by Upper Paleolithic people and their predecessors in Africa.

Why did the Neanderthals fail to adapt when modern humans arrived on their doorstep? Under Dr. Klein’s hypothesis, the reason is simply that they were cognitively less advanced.

Dr. Stiner said that in her view there was not time for them to change their culture.
Is she saying same thing - the Neanderthals were dumber than the Upper Paleolithic people? No, because institutions do take time to change.

What could be true is that some cultures are more open to change than others. See this December 4th essay by Lawrence Harrison at Cato Unbound.


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