Humans Competing for Resources

From UK Guardian:

The puzzle is one of the greatest surrounding our species. On a planet that bristled with different types of human being, including Neanderthals and the Hobbit-like folk of Flores, only one is left today: Homo sapiens.

Our current solo status on Earth is therefore an evolutionary oddity – though it is not clear when our species became Earth’s only masters, nor is it clear why we survived when all other versions of humanity died out. Did we kill off our competitors, or were the others just poorly adapted and unable to react to the extreme climatic fluctuations that then beset the planet?…

In other words, there was a long, gradual takeover by modern humans – an idea that is likely to be demolished at this week’s conference, Stringer said. Results from the five-year research programme, Reset (Response of humans to abrupt environmental transitions), will show that modern humans arrived much earlier than previously estimated and that Neanderthals expired earlier than we thought. Careful dating of finds across Europe suggest Homo sapiens could have reached Europe 45,000 years ago. Five thousand years later, Neanderthals had largely disappeared.

“Previous research on Neanderthal sites which suggested that they were more recent than 40,000 years old appears to be wrong,” said Stringer. “That is a key finding that will be discussed at the conference.”…

So what did kill off the Neanderthals? Given the speed at which they seem to have disappeared from the planet after modern humans spread out of Africa, it is likely that Homo sapiens played a critical role in their demise. That does not mean we chased them down and killed them – an unlikely scenario given their muscular physiques. However, we may have been more successful at competing for resources, as recent research has suggested….

Neanderthals and modern humans are believed to have evolved from a common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis, about 400,000 years ago. Homo heidelbergensis then existed in Europe, Africa and Asia.

It is thought the species evolved into Neanderthals in Europe and into Homo sapiens in Africa. Neanderthals had more muscle and were broader than modern humans, an adaptation to Europe’s colder environment. Homo sapiens was better able to lose body heat, a key response to the conditions in Africa. Homo sapiens began to evolve artistic skills and a capacity for symbolic thinking.

About 60,000 years ago, modern humans migrated from Africa into Asia and Europe. It is not known when they first met Neanderthals, but at least once, in one location, there was a positive outcome – for genetic evidence suggests some interbreeding took place between the species. As a result, tiny fragments of Neanderthal DNA live on in our genes.


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  • Westcoastlife

    Only in non-sub-Saharan human genes is the Neanderthal fragment present. sub-Saharan africans don’t have these Neanderthal genes, giving us a clear picture of where humans and neanderthals interbred (in the Middler East). All non sub-Saharans carry this gene – Australian aborigines, South American tribal Amazonians, Polynesians, Oriental and Caucasians – so the inter-breading likely occurred very early on once they left Africa, before they went their separate ways.

  • cameronhorsburgh

    Small nitpick that’s nevertheless important—when referring to indigenous Australians the word ‘Aboriginal’ should be capitalised, for much the same reason every other people group you mention is.

    (It’s probably just a typo, but unfortunately the lower case usage is very commonly used in this context. I’m sure you can understand why Aboriginal people find it offensive!)

  • Andrew Dowling

    Competition for resources certainly played a role, but I’m surprised I often don’t see disease hypothesized as a major reason. Some plague-like virus that homo sapiens developed immunity to but, Neanderthals did not, I would think could have easily wiped out millions of them within decades (if there were that many to begin with; this is certainly not my area of expertise 🙂 ).

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Don’t forget the Denisovans, which are also absent from sub-Saharan DNA.

  • Marshall

    Don’t know why talk of “evolutionary oddity” … radiation and selection is what Darwinianism is all about.

    Also it turns out that in general there were diverse somewhat distinguishable populations with a complicated history of diversification and interbreeding. John Hawks is a leading specialist with a good non-specialist website at

  • Westcoastlife

    Yes, they were a sub-species of the Neanderthals, I think, and only show up in the eastern asian populations, Polynesian and Australian Aboriginal human populations. There seems to have been some immunological advantages to having some of their DNA. Otherwise, very, very little is known of the Denisovans.