Our lost siblings

Modern humans like you and I—Homo sapiens sapiens— haven’t always been the only human species. The muscular European Neanderthals, the hobbit-sized Homo floresiensis of Indonesia and the big-brained and far-ranging Homo erectus, to name only a few, lived at the same time as our own recent ancestors, maybe even alongside them. So why did they disappear while we multiplied and spread to every corner of the planet?

It’s difficult to understand the way our vanished relatives thought, but the tools and bones they left behind offer hints as to why they may have died out. It could be that they were unable as quickly as modern humans. The Neanderthals were toolmakers, just like our ancestors, but their technology didn’t change like ours. Neanderthals used the same type of simple stone cutting tools for hundreds of thousands of years! What if we only used the same tools that were used thousands of years ago. Can you imagine our descendants in a hundred thousand years only using the tools we have now?

Research suggests that Neanderthals were less able to adapt in other ways as well. They had a more limited diet than our ancestors, sometimes ignoring foods that were readily available. And as the Homo sapiens populations grew, Neanderthals never seemed to form groups of much more than a dozen or two individuals. Perhaps, unlike Homo sapiens, they weren’t capable of functioning in large groups, and as their sapiens cousins prospered, Neanderthal and the other human species faded into extinction.

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