Why the Neanderthals Died Out…

From The Atlantic:

The dinosaurs, per the popular theory, were done in by an object fitting to their size and splendor: an asteroid.

But what about those other earthly old-timers, the Neanderthals? How did they meet their collective fate? According to a new proposal, they were done in by objects considerably less celestial than an asteroid, and also considerably more adorable: bunnies.

Per the hypothesis, proposed by John Fa of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and published in theJournal of Human Evolution, small game – vewy tiny wabbits chief among them — might have made the difference, for Neanderthals, between feast and famine. Fa and his colleagues base that idea on their studies of animal skeletons found in three different excavation sites in Spain and Southern France. Theynoticed that, up until around 30,000 years ago, the remains of large animals — deer and the like — were plentiful in caves. After that, though, the remains of smaller, bunny-like animals became much more prevalent.

And that shift coincides with the seeming disappearance of the Neanderthals. The bulky-browed primates, the scientists speculate, were unable to adapt their hunting skills to small game. And that was not a small thing, because big game are just that: big. Hunting larger animals — chasing them, felling them, hauling them home — expends considerable resources of time and energy. Small game, on the other hand, is less demanding of hunters. It might take more cunning to catch a rabbit, but it generally takes less physical energy. And this discrepancy might have made an important evolutionary difference, the thinking goes, particularly as large animals reduced in numbers. “We suggest,” the authors write, “that hunters that could shift focus to rabbits and other smaller residual fauna, once larger-bodied species decreased in numbers, would have been able to persist.” Neanderthals, on the other hand, “may have been less capable of prey-shifting.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.allanbevere.com Allan R. Bevere

    Very interesting indeed. I have always suspected that Elmer Fudd was a Neanderthal.

  • mike h

    Oh, Puh-leeze…everyone knows that a box and stick with a string attached can catch that wascally wabbit. Even a neanderthal can figure that out.

  • http://www.nativecampusministries.com Willie Krischke

    [insert obligatory Monty Python joke here]

  • Rob Henderson

    According to “Survivorman” eating rabbit only is very unhealthy and can lead to starvation due to the lack of fat. Other nutrients need to be eaten with it.

    But then again, my opinion is that the Neanderthal were not human but humanoid and appeared during the Gap Theory time frame.

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    “I’ve got a theory / it could be bunnies…”

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    I thought Foghorn Leghorn did the neanderthals in…”I say, I saaay…”

  • Bill

    You must be kidding. When did this happen? I see Neanderthals all the time. You want names or pictures or both?

  • http://cornertassel.com Mike Miller

    Are they sure the neanderthals didn’t drink too many Big Gulps?

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com Howard Pepper

    Sorry… no clever wabbit jokes come to mind… Tho I did, half by accident, happen to kill a wild cottontail with a large rock I lobbed at it when I was a teen; and more intentionally, a ground squirrel… So I’m not so sure adapting to capturing or killing small game would have been so hard. Unless there were no Roger Clemens types among them.

    But as to the mere existence of Neanderthals creating problems for a “straight from Adam” concept… it isn’t just them, but also other “early” humans or humanoids, and “biblical times” ones (mysterious giants, per Gen. 6, elsewhere); very early civilizations as well (archaeological evidence is abundant, though mostly ignored or misinterpreted fairly blatantly). And now more ancient evidence via mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosome groupings, etc. I could go on, but that’s a sampling.

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/ Russ

    What little I know says that the Neanderthals died out because of severe climate shifts of glaciation that depleted populations; competition with homo sapien man (who was more adaptable); and a general genetic migration both to- and from- homo sapien man (the difference starting between 800,000 to 600,000 bc as a species and finally separating between 375,000 to 125,000 bc). Too, the latest records (those towards the 125,000 bc dates and earlier) indicate a general dislike by homo sapien man towards neanderthals (ie, murder, genocide, etc). Food source may have indicated neanderthals inability to compete with homo sapien man; or attempted seclusion from homo sapien man for preservation sake; or lack of bounty in a region.


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