The role of physiology and behavior in the replacement of Neanderthals by anatomically modern humans in Europe
Goldfield, Anna Elizabeth
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This dissertation comprises three articles that propose explanations for the eventual extinction of Neanderthals in Europe after a period of several thousand years of coexistence with anatomically modern humans (AMH). I propose that bioenergetic differences between Neanderthals and AMH favored the persistence of AMH. This difference in energetic efficiency was augmented by any behavior that was advantageous to AMH. Consequently, such behaviors directly impacted the rate of Neanderthal extinction. The first article proposes a mathematical model that reconstructs Neanderthal and AMH energetic budgets to predict how using fire for cooking might have affected the success of each species. I first use the model to establish that energetic differences alone result in Neanderthal extinction when Neanderthals and AMH occupy the same landscape. I then establish that cooking meat increases its caloric value, and incorporate that parameter into the model. The outcome indicates that differential fire use by Neanderthals and AMH significantly affects the rate of Neanderthal extinction. The second article analyzes the evidence for marrow and bone grease extraction from reindeer carcasses by Neanderthals and AMH during cold climate phases. I analyze two assemblages produced by Neanderthals and three produced by AMH to determine how each group exploited these crucial nutritional resources. Results indicate that marrow processing intensity correlates with site function rather than with human species while bone grease may have been more intensively processed by AMH. In the third article, I integrate these studies within a new theoretical framework combining self-organizing criticality (SOC) and resilience thinking (RT). I explore Neanderthal extinction across multiple scales. SOC explores how interactions at the scale of the individual can combine to cause events such as an extinction. RT provides a systems-level framework for understanding how patterns of change among Neanderthals, AMH, prey populations, and the landscapes they inhabit may lead to instability and collapse. I identify the arrival of AMH into a landscape occupied by Neanderthals as a threshold point that set the process of Neanderthal demise in motion. I then use SOC and RT together to explain Neanderthal extinction as a slow and patchy process, rather than a sudden extinction.