In evolutionary terms, the population rose in seconds. The news that it has already reached $8 billion seems inexplicable when you consider our history.
For the last 99% of the million years of our existence, people rarely encountered other humans. There were only about 10 thousand Neanderthals living at the same time. Today, about 800,000 people occupy the same space as Neanderthals. Moreover, since humans live in social groups, the next closest Neanderthal group is likely to be more than 100 kilometers away. Finding a mate outside of your family was a challenge.
Neanderthals were more likely to stay with their family groups and were more wary of new people. if they had overtaken our kind (Homo sapiens), the population density is likely to be much lower. It’s hard to imagine them building cities, for example, since they’re genetically predisposed to be less friendly with those outside of their immediate family.
Genetic and anatomical differences
The reasons for the dramatic population growth may lie in the early days Homo sapiens, more than 100 thousand years ago. Genetic and anatomical differences between us and extinct species such as Neanderthals made us more similar to domesticated animal species. Large herds of cows, for example, can better withstand the stress of living together in a small space than their wild ancestors who lived in small, close-knit groups. These genetic differences have changed our attitudes towards people outside our group. We become more tolerant.
Like the Homo sapiens They were more likely to interact with groups outside their own families, they created a more diverse genetic pool that reduced health problems. Neanderthals from El Sidrón, Spain, had 17 genetic abnormalities in just 13 people, for example. Such mutations were virtually non-existent in later populations of our species.
But an increase in population also increases the spread of disease. Neanderthals may have lived shorter lives than modern humans, but their relative isolation protected them from infectious diseases that sometimes wiped out entire populations. Homo sapiens🇧🇷
Put more food on the table
Our species may also have 10% to 20% faster reproductive rates than earlier human species. But having more children only increases the population if there is enough food for them.
Our genetic inclination towards friendship crystallized about 200,000 years ago. From that time on, there is archaeological evidence that the raw materials used to make tools moved more widely across the landscape.
100,000 years ago, we created networks along which new types of hunting weapons and jewelry, such as shell beads, could spread. Ideas were shared widely and there were seasonal gatherings where he was Homo sapiens They gathered for rituals and socializing. People had friends to rely on in various groups when they were short on food.
We may also need more emotional connection and new types of relationships outside of our human social worlds. In an alternate universe where Neanderthals thrived, it might be less likely that humans would cultivate relationships with animals through domestication.
drastic changes in the environment
Things would also have been different if environments had not generated so many sudden deficits, such as drastic declines in flora and fauna, on so many occasions. Were it not for these serendipitous changes, Neanderthals would have survived.
Sharing resources and ideas between groups has allowed people to live off the land more efficiently, distribute more effective technologies, and feed each other in times of crisis. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why our species thrives when the climate changes while others die out. a Homo sapiens Better adapt to climatic variables and risk conditions. This is in part because our species can rely on networks in times of crisis.
During the height of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, temperatures across Europe were 8°C to 10°C lower than today, and Germany is more like northern Siberia now. Most of northern Europe is covered in ice for six to nine months of the year.
Social connections provided the means by which inventions could spread between groups to help us adapt. These included spear throwers to make hunting more efficient, fine needles to make tight clothing and keep people warmer, stockpiling food, and hunting with tame wolves. As a result, more people escaped from nature’s wheel of fortune.
a Homo sapiens He was generally careful not to consume resources such as deer or fish, and was probably more aware of their life cycles than many earlier species of humans. For example, people in British Columbia, Canada, only catch males when they fish for salmon.
However, in some cases, these life cycles were hard to see. During the last ice age, animals such as mammoths, which roamed vast areas invisible to human groups, became extinct. There are over a hundred representations of mammoths in Rouvignac, France, dating from the time of their disappearance, which indicates that people mourned this loss. But it is more likely that the mammoth would have survived had it not been for the appearance of a mammoth Homo sapiensbecause there would be fewer Neanderthals to hunt.
Too clever for our own good
Our enjoyment of each other’s company and the way spending time together stimulates the creativity of our species. But that came at a price.
The more technology humanity develops, the more harm our use of it will have on the planet. Intensive farming is depleting the nutrients in our soils, overfishing is ravaging our seas, and the greenhouse gases we release when we produce the products we now depend on are causing extreme weather. Overexploitation wasn’t inevitable, but our species was the first to do so.
We can expect the visual evidence of destruction in our natural world to change our attitudes over time. We’ve changed quickly when we needed to throughout our history. After all, there is no such thing as Planet B. But if Neanderthals survived instead of us, we’d never need one.
* Penny Speckens is Professor of the Archeology of Human Origins at the University of York (UK).
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