Friday, September 28, 2018

Neanderthal Apocalypse

This is an extremely interesting two-part documentary about recent research findings concerning the Neanderthals. As has been known for some time, Neanderthals weren´t dim-witted knuckle-walkers with a penchant for grunting. Rather, they were essentially just as intelligent as “anatomically modern man” (i.e. our species Homo sapiens).

Indeed, in many ways, Neanderthals were *better* adapted to life in Early Stone Age Europe than our ancestors. Their bulky and stocky bodies were better at keeping heat under cold climatic conditions, their thrusting spears were more efficient than the throwing spears used by our species at the time, and they were probably more naturally aggressive, making them a formidable opponent in any man-to-man fighting. It´s not even certain that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens always fought. Modern humans (outside Africa) have about 1% Neanderthals genes, suggesting a degree of interbreeding between the two groups.

So why did the Neanderthals disappear, if it wasn´t due to genocide or low intelligence? The documentary speculates that their disappearance was due to three factors: low population density, a geographically restricted range, and the eruption of a super-volcano about 37,000 years ago, more specifically the volcanic area in southern Italy known as the Phlegraean Fields (Campi Flegrei). The eruption would have adversely impacted large portions of Europe and adjacent parts of Asia, i.e. the core area where Neanderthals lived. Only isolated communities, such as the settlement at the Rock of Gibraltar, would have survived the blast. Homo sapiens, by contrast, had already spread to most of the Old World by this time (in my opinion, the New World as well), and therefore survived the eruption at Campi Flegrei.

During the last ten minutes or so, “Neanderthal Apocalypse” goes off tangent, suggesting that the Yellowstone super-volcano is about to blow, and that the United States can collapse within weeks. Ahem, no, most geologists don´t believe that, but everything for the ratings, right? At least they don´t blame the Yellowstone situation on Donald Trump or the Russians…

Despite that little nod to popular apocalypticism and survivalism, this production is nevertheless well worth watching, and I therefore give it four stars out of five!

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