Culture Considered the Key Differential Between Modern Humans and Neanderthals

on March 22, 2008

LiveScience: “Culture, Not Skulls, Gave Humans Edge Over Neanderthals” It wasn’t skull differences—or any other biological difference—that ultimately separated “modern” humans and their supposedly different kin the Neanderthals, according to a recent anthropology study.

Instead, the study team claims that it must have been culture that caused Neanderthals to die out while other humans lived on, something evolutionists claim happened about 30,000 years ago.

Why didn't Neanderthals keep up with the rest of us?

The conclusion originates from a study the team conducted on Neanderthal skulls and the skulls of humans living today. The team compared various measurements, looking for signs of biological difference that might explain why Neanderthals didn’t keep up with the rest of us.

According to team member Tim Weaver, an anthropologist at the University of California–Davis, “[T]he differences between modern humans’ skulls and Neanderthals’ are not due to changes that increased people’s ability to survive and reproduce. . . . Whatever advantages humans had over Neanderthals didn’t have to do with the size and shape of the cranium.”

Or, as Clara Moskowitz puts it for LiveScience, “[M]ost variations [between humans living today and Neanderthals] are the result of random changes that occur over time, and not of adaptations driven by natural selection.” This goes against what may be considered prevailing wisdom that says modern humans “won out” over Neanderthals because of better hearing, vision, etc.—differences showing up in the skull.

This research doesn't settle the question of how we ended up in the here and now but Neanderthals didn’t, Weaver added, but the team does offer culture as an explanation. “One reason why modern humans might have been able to replace Neanderthals has to do with behavior. They gained new cultural abilities that allowed them to better exploit their environments and out-compete groups like Neanderthals.”

Interestingly enough, some researchers doubt that there was any fundamental difference between today’s humans and Neanderthals. Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist Erik Trinkaus says he has seen no evidence of any difference, either biological or sociocultural, between today’s humans and Neanderthals. His quote strongly supports the Bible-based view of anthropology (which we’ll come to in a moment):

“When we look at the archaeology, there’s essentially no difference in their implied social sophistication. They use the same kinds of tools, they’re all burying their dead, they’re all using body decorations of some form or another. They were equally effective at hunting animals. In anything that we can measure, there’s very little difference between Neanderthal and modern humans 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.”

Trinkaus suggests that what separated us may have been nothing more than a little luck!*

Trinkaus suggests that what separated us may have been nothing more than a little luck!

This news is strong support to the model of human origins and development Christian scientists have built when starting with the Bible. Let’s take a quick look at the bases of the model:

  • The Bible gives the origin of man as the creation of Adam (and Eve) approximately six thousand years ago. The Bible makes it clear that all humankind is descended from Adam (eventually through Noah), and that all are equally made in God’s image.
  • We find fossilized human remains around the globe, and while they range in size and there are minor morphological differences, they almost always match the skeletal diversity we see in humans today. For instance, the “hobbits” found in Indonesia seem small and malformed compared to most normal-sized humans today, but their size seems less atypical when compared to Pygmies living today, and skeletal deformities are easily explained by malnutrition and disease their environment would have hastened. Similarly, Neanderthals have fairly minor morphological differences—such as the infamous prominent brow ridge—that would have made them look different, but would not have influenced their status as intelligent humans made in God’s image.
  • We also find fossils of ape and ape-like creatures that are far more similar to today’s chimpanzees and whose status as upright walkers owes more to the imagination of evolutionists than to skeletal properties.

“Neanderthals” were just one of many equally “modern” variations of modern humans.

Whereas evolutionists must see a continuum of fossil hominids leading all the way back to an apelike ancestor, creationists can look at the obvious—that Neanderthals were like us in every fundamental way—and conclude the obvious—that Neanderthals were us; that is, what we call “Neanderthals” were just one of many equally “modern” variations of modern humans, like Pygmies today. We can even explain some of the skeletal deformities through such diseases as rickets. Other than that, however, behaving just as intelligently as other modern humans, they would have been virtually indistinguishable. As Prof. Trinkaus said, they used the same sort of tools, they buried their dead, and they were just as good at hunting. We also know that they used fire and created artwork.

Thus, this news reinforces the idea that all humans were and are descendants of Adam, made in the image of God, fully intelligent, and in need of a Savior.

* Of course, God was—and is!—in control; people don’t die because of “bad luck”!

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