Skull study shows Ne­an­derthals, Homo sapi­ens led harsh lives

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Mal­colm Rit­ter

NEW YORK — Life as a Neanderthal was no pic­nic, but a new anal­y­sis says it was no more dan­ger­ous than what our own species faced in an­cient times.

That chal­lenges what the au­thors call the pre­vail­ing view of our evo­lu­tion­ary cousins, that they lived risky, stress­ful lives. Some stud­ies have sug­gested they had high in­jury rates, which have been blamed on things like so­cial vi­o­lence, at­tacks by car­ni­vores, a hunt­ing style that re­quired get­ting close to large prey, and the haz­ards of ex­ten­sive travel in en­vi­ron­ments full of snow and ice.

While it’s true that their lives were prob­a­bly riskier than those of peo­ple in to­day’s in­dus­trial so­ci­eties, the vastly dif­fer­ent liv­ing con­di­tions of those two groups mean com­par­ing them isn’t re­ally ap­pro­pri­ate, said Ka­te­rina Har­vati of the Univer­sity of Tue­bin­gen in Ger­many.

A bet­ter ques­tion is whether Ne­an­derthals faced more dan­ger than our species did when we shared sim­i­lar en­vi­ron­ments and com­pa­ra­ble life­styles of mo­bile hunter-gath­er­ers, she and study co-au­thors say in a pa­per re­leased by the jour­nal Na­ture re­cently.

To study that, they fo­cused on skull in­juries. They re­viewed prior stud­ies of fos­sils from western Eura­sia that ranged from about 80,000 to 20,000 years old. In all they as­sessed data on 295 skull sam­ples from 114 in­di­vid­ual Ne­an­derthals, and 541 skull sam­ples from 90 in­di­vid­u­als of our own species, Homo sapi­ens.

In­jury rates turned out to be about the same in both species. That ques­tions the idea that the be­hav­ior of Ne­an­derthals cre­ated par­tic­u­larly high lev­els of dan­ger, Marta Mi­ra­zon Lahr of Cam­bridge Univer­sity wrote in an ac­com­pa­ny­ing commentary.

But the study is not the fi­nal word on Neanderthal trauma, she wrote. It didn’t in­clude in­juries other than to the skull.


This il­lus­tra­tion shows Ne­an­derthals hunt­ing with non­pro­jec­tile weapons. A study fo­cused on skull in­juries.

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