Computational modeling that examines evidence of how hominin groups evolved culturally and biologically in response to climate change during the last Ice Age also bears new insights into the extinction of Neanderthals. Details of the complex modeling experiments conducted at Arizona State University and the University of Colorado Denver will be published in the December issue of the journal Human Ecology, available online Nov. 17.
"To better understand human ecology, and especially how human culture and biology co-evolved among hunter-gatherers in the Late Pleistocene of Western Eurasia (ca. 128,000-11,500 years ago) we designed theoretical and methodological frameworks that incorporated feedback across three evolutionary systems: biological, cultural and environmental," said Michael Barton, a pioneer in the area of archaeological applications of computational modeling at Arizona State University.
"One scientifically interesting result of this research, which studied culturally and environmentally driven changes in land-use behaviors, is that it shows how Neanderthals could have disappeared not because they were somehow less fit than all other hominins who existed during the last glaciation, but because they were as behaviorally sophisticated as modern humans," said Barton, who is lead author of the published findings.
The paper "Modeling Human Ecodynamics and Biocultural Interactions in the Late Pleistocene of Western Eurasia" is co-authored by Julien Riel-Salvatore, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver; John Martin "Marty" Anderies, an associate professor of computational social science at ASU in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Sustainability; and Gabriel Popescu, an anthropology doctoral student in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU.
"It's been long believed that Neanderthals were outcompeted by fitter modern humans and they could not adapt," said Riel-Salvatore. "We are changing the main narrative. Neanderthals were just as adaptable and in many ways, simply victims of their own success."
The interdisciplinary team of researchers used archeological data to track behavioral changes in Western Eurasia over a period of 100,000 years and showed that human mobility increased over time, probably in response to environmental change. According to Barton, the last Ice Age saw hunter-gathers, including both Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans, range more widely across Eurasia searching for food during a major shift in the Earth's climate.
The scientists utilized computer modeling to explore the evolutionary consequences of those changes, including how changes in the movements of Neanderthals and modern humans caused them to interact – and interbreed – more often.
According to Riel-Salvatore, the study offered further evidence that Neanderthals were more flexible and resourceful than previously assumed.
"Neanderthals had proven that they could roll with the punches and when they met the more numerous modern humans, they adapted again," Riel-Salvatore said. "But modern humans probably saw the Neanderthals as possible mates. As a result, over time, the Neanderthals died out as a physically recognizable population."
To reach their conclusion, the researchers ran a computer program for the equivalent of 1,500 generations showing that as Neanderthals and modern humans expanded their yearly ranges, the Neanderthals were slowly absorbed by more numerous modern humans until they had disappeared as a recognizable population.
"We tested the modeling results against the empirical archaeological record and found that there is evidence that Neanderthals, and moderns, did adapt their behaviors in the way in which we modeled," explained Barton. "Moreover, the modeling predicts the kind of low-level genetic admixture of Neanderthal genes that are being found in the newest genetic studies just now being published.
"In other words, successful behavioral adaptations to severe environmental conditions made Neanderthals, and other non-moderns about whom we know little, vulnerable to biological extinction, but at the same time, ensured they made a genetic contribution to modern populations," Barton said.
The authors noted that "the methods we illustrate here offer a robust, new framework in which researchers can begin to examine the effects that such invisible characteristics could have on the observable record."
"The kind of modeling we did in this research is very new in paleoanthropology, as is the continental scope of the archaeological analysis we used to test the model results," noted Barton.
"However, such computational modeling can refine our understanding of long-term human impact on the environment that can help inform land-use decisions for our future," said Barton, who also is co-director of ASU's Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, which leverages the emerging field of complex systems to foster interdisciplinary research on fundamental questions of social life.
The research presented in Human Ecology was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship and a Fulbright Graduate Student Fellowship.
Arizona State University: http://asunews.asu.edu/
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Claims that Ai Hin was faking pregnancy to get better treatment have been debunked by leading panda expert
The recent release of Susan Greenfields new book and the film Lucy, both of which are dependent on tired misconceptions or dubious theories about the brain, suggest one worrying conclusion: we are running out of myths about the brain. So here are some new ones, to keep things mysterious
These are the siphonophores, some 180 known species of gelatinous strings that can grow to 100 feet long, making them some of the longest critters on the planet. But instead of growing as a single body like virtually every other animal, siphonophores clone themselves thousands of times over into half a dozen different types of specialized cloned bodies, all strung together to work as a team---a very deadly team at that.
Researchers who study memory have had a thrilling couple of years. Some have erased memories in people with electroshock therapy, for example. Others have figured out, in mice, how to create false memories and even turn bad memories into good ones.
Hunting bats don't just listen out for male frogs' mating calls: they can also use echolocation to detect when the frogs inflate their throat sacs
A crèche of 30 dinosaur infants looked over by an older animal shows that even terrible lizards needed a night away from the kids
Families have identifiable collections of microbes that travel with them. It can take just 24 hours for the microbes to take over a new house
When rabbits were domesticated, around 100 regions of their genome changed to make them less fearful, but the variations are not fixed
Scientists never understood what became of the Paleo-Eskimos who once peopled the north. Now they know—and there's new reason to miss them
NOAA whittles down initial list of 66 species to be covered by Endangered Species Act