“killer neandertals” – does this one really stack up?

I spent yesterday up in Auckland, running a schol bio preparation day. (And thanks to Mike, Cindy, BEANZ & the Auckland Science Teachers Association) for setting it up.) I do enjoy these sessions (& hopefully the students do too!) as I like the interactions with students & they always ask nice, challenging questions.

Anyway, after we’d finished the main proceedings of the day, someone came up & asked if I’d heard of the ‘killer Neandertal’ hypothesis, & what did I think of it? Was it a good explanation for the evolution of modern humans? The quick answer was, no I hadn’t, so couldn’t really comment – but I’d go & have a look 🙂

I quickly found a website promoting a book by Danny Vendramini. Called Them and Us: how Neanderthal predation created modern humans, the book supposedly provides “new archaeological and genetic evidence to show [Neandertals] weren’t docile omnivores, but savage, cannibalistic carnivores…” – the ‘Neanderthal Predation theory’. (I noticed that the author uses the spelling ‘Neanderthal’ throughout – a bit surprising as the norm these days is to use ‘Neandertal’, after the correct German spelling for the river valley where the type specimen was found.) Given the lack of any real evidence, and of support for this from the wider scientific community, this position would be better described as an hypothesis…

The website goes on to claim that that

Eurasian Neanderthals hunted, killed and cannibalised early humans for 50,000 years in an area of the Middle East known as the Mediterranean Levant. Because the two species were sexually compatible, Eurasian Neanderthals also abducted and raped human females…. this prolonged period of cannibalistic and sexual predation began about 100,000 years ago and that by 50,000 years ago, the human population in the Levant was reduced to as few as 50 individuals.

The death toll from Neanderthal predation generated the selection pressure that transformed the tiny survivor population of early humans into modern humans. This Levantine group became the founding population of all humans living today.

 

These claims are accompanied by illustrations that make Neandertals appear more akin to gorillas than to modern humans, which is ‘interesting to say the least, given the recent information on genetic similarities between sapiensneandertalensis.  We’re told that the Neandertal Predation ‘theory’ “argues that, like modern nocturnal predators, Neanderthals had slit-shaped pupils to protect them from snow blindness” (thus conflating two ideas – not all nocturnal predators live in snow-covered lands – on the basis of zero evidence, since eyeballs don’t fossilise). And there’s also the statement that Neandertals “had thick body fur and flat primate faces to protect them against the lethal cold.”

Now, that last one is just ridiculous. As far as I know there have been no published findings of Neandertal fossils accompanied by evidence of thick body fur. On the other hand, there is tantalising evidence that they may have had the technology to make sewn garments, thus reducing any selection pressure favouring hirsuteness. In addition, Europe was definitely not in a state of constant glaciation during the few hundred thousand years that Neandertals lived there. During interglacial periods temperatures were fairly similar to what they are today – hardly conditions where a thick furry pelt would be selected for (let alone those slit-shaped pupils…).

As for the ‘flat primate faces’ – if you have a look at a gorilla skull you’ll see that the nasal opening is flush with the surface of the facial bones: gorillas do indeed have flat faces & no protruding nose. But a Neandertal skull, like that of a modern human, does have projecting nasal bones & so, by extension, a nose that juts out from the face. In fact, the whole central region of a Neandertal face projects further forward than ours, so it’s hard to see where Vendramini gets the idea of a ‘flat’ face from. He does provide an image of an Neandertal skull, superimposed onto a chimpanzee profile, & claims that the ‘perfect’ fit is evidence that neandertalensis “more closely resembled non-human primates than a modern humans”. What’s missing is any recognition that the skull is not in its ‘life’ position but presented at an angle that conveniently fits the point of view being espoused. If Neandertals really did hold their heads at this angle their posture would be distinctly odd, to say the least. Similar techniques were used by some illustrators in the 1800s to support the idea that African negroes were closer to the apes than to Europeans.

And the claims of rape and cannibalism are fairly extraordinary. As the late Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. So let’s go back to some of those statements. How about the supposedly much-diminished group of Levantine humans becoming “the founding population of all humans living today”? How, exactly, does this fit with the fact that the sapiens populations of Africa were not exposed to supposed Neandertal predation? Or with the colonisation of Australia by Homo sapiens around 60-70,000 years ago?

Or the idea of frequent interspecies rape, of sapiens by neandertalensis? By the way, if all this – the brutish images & tales of rape – isn’t intended to demonise Neandertals, then I’m not sure what would. Frankly it smacks of the way this species was portrayed in the years immediately following its discovery, before palaeoanthropologists began to expose the details of its life – for example, a reconstruction by Frantisek Kupka, based on work by Marcellin Boule. Something of a dehumanising stereotype, in other words.

By the way, there’s an interesting paper by Julia Drell (2000: Neandertals: a history of interpretation) that looks at how portrayals of Neandertal have changed over time, as more evidence has become available – and also as societal attitudes have changed. (NB this may well not be open-access.) Drell also notes that suggestions of cannibalism by Neandertals aren’t new, first appearing in the 1860s. She cites an earlier author as saying that “there is no more universally common way of distancing oneself from other people than to call them cannibals.”

In fact, there’s not a lot of evidence of cannibalism in Neandertals –  the remains of about 15 individuals that may have been eaten by their conspecifics. And that over the total span of their existence. (I do wonder why they’d turn to cannibalism anyway, given that they were extremely successful hunters of large game going by the butchered remains associated with neandertalensis living sites.) There is no published evidence that supports the contention that Neandertals ever ate non-Neandertal hominins, let alone on the scale that Vendramini suggests. On the other hand, there is evidence of Neolithic sapiens eating each other.

Nor is there evidence of frequent interspecies rape in the gene pool of modern humans. Earlier this year Green et al announced the sequencing of the Neandertal genome, and the results of a comparison of this and the sapiens genome. Their data did suggest a small degree of interspecific hankypanky might have been going on, but not in large quantity. (The data did not support the idea that all modern humans are descended from a remnant human population in the Levant, as Them and Us would have it; Neandertal genes are notably absent from African populations. Nor does it support the idea of Neandertal predation, despite claims to the contrary on the book’s website.)

The Them and Us website also provides a link to a paper, Neanderthal predation and the bottleneck speciation of modern humans, for the ‘academically minded’. Strangely for an academic paper, the pdf contains no publication details (journal name, volume, & so on) & a Google Scholar search doesn’t throw up any published papers with that name. So it’s a fair bet that this has not been subject to the normal pre-publication process of peer review – something I would expect for an hypothesis that’s supposed to turn our understanding of human evolution on its head…

J.R.R.Drell (2000) Neanderthals: a histroy of interpretation. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 19(1): 1-24

47 thoughts on ““killer neandertals” – does this one really stack up?”

  • Another view of the thing which substitutes the notion of ‘splash saltations’ for punk-eek both generally and in the case of Vendramini’s thesis wrt Cro Magnons:
    http://bearfabrique.org/Catastrophism/Prehistory/Prehistory.htm
    Vendramini’s reconstructions of Neanderthals are totally believable; they explain the huge eyes and nasal area as well as the fact that in the myriad Neanderthal toolkits and tools nobody has ever found a needle. Creatures with 6″ – 8″ ice-age fur coats don’t require clothing or needles.
    It’s the claim of gracile hominids punk-eeking their way to Cro Magnonhood which doesn’t work and, again, the website I note explains all that.

  • Your patience in responding to the comments (on sciblogs) regarding this absurd hypothesis was incredible. I commend you and thank you for gracing us with your informed perspective. Best of luck in all your endeavors!

  • The claims in tis book are not that ridiculous, particularly the claims of rape and abduction as they are synonymous with the hominid (bigfoot, yeti) myths of North America and Asia. What the author tried to present was a theory of WHY home sapiens are so radically different from all their cousins. When one looks at Neanderthal skeletons instead of just museum reconstructions they are radically different from modern humans. Based on the robustness of their frames their musculature must have been absolutely terrifying to our weaker, leaner ancestors.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    That the claims are synonymous with myth doesn’t make them any less ridiculous.
    Neanderthal skeletons are not ‘radically different’ from those of modern humans. More roubust, yes; radically different, no. The major differences lie in the structure of cranium & face & even then, they aren’t ‘radical’.
    Nor does that excuse any of Vendramini’s wild speculations about appearance & behaviour: the brutish faces, the thick hair, the vertical pupils, & the rest of it.

    • Where the video I watched started losing me was when he held up the reconstructed skull of a Neanderthalensis and matched its shape against the _fleshed_ profile of a chimpanzee and declared that this _proved_ Neanderthalensis was more ape-like than ‘popular’ reconstructions made them out to be, rather than comparing the Neanderthanlensis skull against a chimpanzee skull, which would have displayed more significant differences that would render his claims suspect. The claims that forensic reconstructions tuned toward recreating human faces from skulls and are therefore inaccurate with regard to other species feel to me to be specious, as the same technique has been used in modeling other creatures, both extant and extinct, from their skulls.

    • You don’t actually offer rebuttals to anything presented in the book. You merely mock the hypothesis and misinterpret the info shared by the author, like by attacking some claim about body hair that was never made in the first place. It’s as if you intentionally misrepresent because you take it personally.. that neanderthals commited rape and cannibalisation. do you have a sloped forehead at all? Perhaps your debunking would be more effective if you called the author anti semetic?.. I guess you don’t take flak unless you are over the target though. I appreciate that a decade later you are still trying to attack back. It’s very telling of the information.

      • “you don’t actually offer rebuttals to anything presented in the book.”
        Since I’ve actually addressed a number of claims made in the book and its promotional website, I suspect that reading comprehension is not your strong suit. Furthermore, I wrote that post a decade ago, so the fact that you’re still pushing it is very telling of your mindset.

  • herr doktor bimler says:

    It’s the claim of gracile hominids punk-eeking their way to Cro Magnonhood which doesn’t work and, again, the website I note explains all that.
    This is a profoundly silly argument. If we need to invoke “predation by carnivorous Neandertals” to explain why anatomically-modern humans evolved from earlier hominids — because they could never have evolved otherwise — then we are then left wondering how those carnivorous Neandertals evolved from earlier hominids.
    Conversely, if gracile hominids could “punk-eek” their way to Neandertalhood — who had to come from somewhere! — then there is no reason why Cro-Magnons couldn’t have done the same.

  • If tantalising evidence means lousy applying of laws of thermodynamics in a pseudo science manner coupled with no archaeological evidence whatsoever, then I think it’s time to redefine what exactly ‘tantalising evidence’ means. Is this how science is done in the Antipodes?

  • The logic in the article rests on the assumption that Neanderthals in 500,000 years of separate evolution in an extremely cold climate evolved to conform to the hairless state of modern humans. Did they also prefer females who waxed?
    The recent evolution of body lice, which reside in clothes indicates we only have used clothes in the last 100,000 years. (Kittler et el 2003, current Biology. )
    As for the volume of meat required, an insulated (hairy) Neanderthal with great senses of sight and smell, using shadows for cover equiped with a massive stabbing spear would be a formidable nocturnal ambush predator. The large ocular orbits and nasal cavity indicate this was plausible.
    One large animal per clan every 7 weeks would not seem too much of a challenge.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    The fact that sapiens didn’t develop their own species of body lice until around 100,000 years ago doesn’t tell us anything about what neanderthalensis may or may not have worn – & I’ve referenced a paper suggesting that yes, they too were constructing clothes. In addition, as I pointed out in my post, Europe was definitely not in a state of constant glaciation during the few hundred thousand years that Neandertals lived there. During interglacial periods temperatures were fairly similar to what they are today.
    Not quite sure why you are talking about volumes of meat as I have noted that Neandertals are known to have been very successful hunters of large animals.

  • The defining characteristic of obligate carnivores is empathy.
    A carnivorous Neanderthal would have been more catlike in behaviour, not brutish.
    Carnivores have more time for grooming therefore were probably sleeker that their hominid prey.
    Does your cat snarl all the time? Of cause not.
    Do cats hate mice? Again, no. They think that mice are the cutest things.
    Neanderthal would have played with his food, just like a cat.
    The haplogroup I1a has ledgends of the Jötnar who fit the description of Neanderthal perfectly.
    Both þor and Odin had Jötun wives. They were considered beautiful.
    I stopped reading when I got to the homily ” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. ”
    Rubbish.
    Extraordinary claims require evidence. Period.
    Just like any claim.
    The extraordinary claim is a false argument, as incredulity is not an argument.

    • I disagree that the Jötnar fit the description of Neanderthals (Hsn), whose average height was approximately the same as that of contemporary modern humans (Hss).

      There have been oral traditions that have preserved cultural memory of events that may have before the time of extinction of Hsn (Budj Bim volcanic eruption), but the Norse legends are not convincingly about Hsn. Aztec mythology similarly featured the giant Quinametzin, who, again, were not Hsn because the Hsn were not giants. And the Aztecs were far outside the Hsn’s greatest range. It shows that myths of giants can arise anywhere, without the influence of another hominid.

      I do agree that extraordinary claims require evidence, not extraordinary evidence. Well, more evidence than the contrary position, but just that. It is not justified to hold a position that fits more poorly with ordinary evidence just because the alternative that fits better with the ordinary evidence would be an “extraordinary” claim by some measure. But the Jötnar-Hsn claim is not supported by ordinary evidence.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    The defining characteristic of obligate carnivores is empathy. This one requires a citation!
    A carnivorous Neanderthal would have been more catlike in behaviour, not brutish. Oh please! There is zero evidence to support this contention.
    The haplogroup I1a has ledgends of the Jötnar who fit the description of Neanderthal perfectly. Both þor and Odin had Jötun wives. They were considered beautiful. They may fit Vendramini’s overwrought imagination perfectly. Sadly, his reconstructions don’t match anything developed by actual science.
    I stopped reading when I got to the homily ” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. ” Rubbish. Extraordinary claims require evidence. Period. Just like any claim. The extraordinary claim is a false argument, as incredulity is not an argument.
    Logic fail. Vendramini’s claims are indeed extraordinary, given that they fly in the face of all that palaeontology and genetics tell us about the Neandertals. This is a statement of fact, not an argument from incredulity. Because his claims are so extraordinary, if he’s to overthrow the scientific consensus he really does have to provide extraordinary evidence. Although I must say, any robust evidence at all would help his case. This does not include Norse legends or imaginative ‘reconstructions’.

  • HybridsSleeperCells says:

    Art, artifacts and literature of the past speaks to us in ways that mankind cannot. This allows for truth, without manipulation so some can feel good about themselves. Over the last 500-years… stories have been re-written into what people today are deem fairy-tales paints a clear picture of the societies and the acceptable nature of the beast that is alive within many of us.

    There is no denying the culture of cannibalism, raping and eating children as a lifestyle… when we look at the very old laws which still exist today in many of the old Caucasian cultures in the world where the Neanderthals were the strongest, there is over-whelming support for this theory. A theory that I embarked upon over 40-years ago in my own research into Europe culture. Discovered are far to many to count the number of children and woman remains with teeth imprints to ignore extreme cannibalism. In fact, bold enough to state this was the main diet.

    Ever wonder where the term Bloody, which is used more than any other word in the old English culture? Blood sausage, a national food in Britain…which was once always using human blood, and some still use the same today. Selling your human remains to a cannibals for consumption is still legal in several European countries. I can go on…to a tune of a 1000, plus page outline, but I’ll just park this here.

    http://flavorwire.com/344667/the-disturbing-origins-of-10-famous-fairy-tales/2

    • I can’t help feeling that your hypothesis would gain more credence if you were to publish your findings via the usual academic route, thus subjecting them to peer review.

      As I’m sure you’re aware, the etymology of the term “bloody” is quite interesting (as the history of words often is). However, “bloody” has been used as a means of intensifying a statement only since the mid-1700s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody) . So it’s something of a stretch to suggest that it reflects a deep cannibalistic past.

      The frequency & function of cannibalism in humans remain open to interpretation. One interpretation is, of course, yours, but there are others (eg https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/apr/06/prehistoric-cannibalism-not-just-driven-by-hunger-study-reveals).

      None of which, of course, actually supports Vendramini’s outlandish claims.

  • Love that I found this Theory end of 2018 and thought it is new.. than reading about this 2010 debunking and finding out comments are going to 2019.

    I’m fan of Neanderthal Predator Theory. Can someone clearly debunk this without throwing a biased opinion? I have too less knowledge and just reading into it.. guess I stay amateur on that field so god damn help me.

    • The (relatively sparse) comments do indeed run through to this year; it’s amazing how Vendramini’s minimal-science hypothesis continues to have legs.

      As I said in the post, there is no good scientific evidence in support of his hypothesis, and a lot of material stacked against it.

    • This theory is fantastic.
      Unfortunately, by answering the basic question about our creation, it would put many anthropologists out of business, if accepted.
      There is no missing link. There is no Lucy.
      It’s all about 50 big monkeys that refused to die.
      The bias need to debunk this theory is proof that’s scary. Wonder why.
      ps. I like it because it can link to the Genesis. Before Adam and Eve, there were no humans…. love it.

      • It’s not remotely clear what you’re intending to say here – except, perhaps, that you appear to be promoting a form of creationism (a belief system, rather than science).

    • Being not an Anthropologyst but an Historian, and having much less personal interest bias on the “health” of this “theory”, plus not handling it with expert´s vocabulary, i think that i can debunk it easily.

      1) First. The Charge of the proof lies in the statement, not in the debunk. When you make a statement in science, you first need to provide solid evidence that your statement is correct, that does not contradict previous evidence or, if it does, it makes yours the best and most economic explanation of the issue, before anybody else is required to debunk or agree with you. Vendramini does not provides enough evidence to build a theory, just to build a case, that is, a Conjeture, in the best…..case.

      Also, it must be remembered that theories that provides equally supported evidence are chosen always by its economy, not by how you “like” it. It must be the simplest explanation. This explanation is nowhere near the simplest and im goin to say why in the later points.

      1) The anatomical remarks of Vendramini are wrong. The skeletal structure cannot be mounted the way he says it does. Atlas and Axis vertebrae (the two responsible for moving and suspending the skull) are nowhere near where they should be, not in “human” position and neither in “ape” one, that is completely different. I cannot post links, but google “Atlas and Axis” and then “Atlas and Axis vertebrae, Apes” and you will see that they have not the same design because they do not insert in the same way. Vendramini is pretending that a quite human-like Atlas and Axis vertebrae such as those of the Neanderthal are inserting in the skull like Ape´s does, and that is simply anatomically impossible. Vendramini Neanderthal could not turn the head around like another primate, “it” will have the movement range of a horse´s neck, at best. Very crappy for a brawler predator.

      If you are a sedentary person, you may understimate the importance of these two vertebrae, but how they insert the spine in the skull are in hte basis of human`s unique versatility and precision of movement: Other animals may be faster, nimbler, quicker, but NO animal, even neandertals, has human´s versatility and precision in movement. Precision also means eficiency at the moment of using strength.

      2) He does not provide any evidence of the fur. Any. Neanderthal sites does not contain needles but they have dried skins, used at the very least to keep warm at night, and probably also to carry over the body like a poncho by the day. Neither he expains why he give the Neandertal Gorrilla-like black skin. We have skin genes in common with Neandertals, then why nobody of us shows Gorilla skin? We know that some Neandertals had red hair, how does it connects with having “fur”? THeir skin and body hair genetic makeup will be extremely different from ours, no gene could have been passed that way -and we know that some did-

      3) He does not provide any evidence of humanity´s submisive behaviour. Homo Sapiens existed for at least 100.000 years before meeting Neandertals and they had about the same behavior pattern than after meeting them: they were hunter-gatherers already, with the same size of groups. THere is no evidence at all in the book that humanity changed its behaviour radically due to Neandertal`s contact. Just a vague reference to a more dynamic expansion that is not followed close enough to be considered “proven”. Again, if you make an statement, YOU need to provide evidence. Nor I nor any scientist needs to give you the slightest credit until you do. Somebody may “like” the theory just like they like Alien mutagenetic theories, but it has nothing to do with science, you cannot teach an unproven theory in any school, for example.

      4) There is no proof of behavior change in humanity after Neandertal contac in terms of Ergology. The evolution of material culture does not change radically after Neandertal`s meeting. We adquired some of their tech, their adquired some of ours (this is proven, as the elements are documented on sapiens and neandertal sites), but we didnt changed our technological paradigma. We keep having Paleolithic hunter-gatherer tech, the same density of weapons, tools, etc, or slight changers without any change in pacing of adoptions or development. Technologically speaking, there was no revolution, just some acquisitions. We had tools like needles or specialized stone blades before and we had them after.

      6) We know of a paleospecies predation over another by physical evidence. Routinely found chewed bones, bones in disorder in depositories of carcasses or in caves inhabited by the predator, stomach content, etc. Predation on the scale the Vendramini suggest, to reduce a population LARGER than that of the Neadertals to a handful individuals, should be left SOME trace. And there is none, and none is provided by the Aussie

      5) Behaviourally, all of the alpha-rapist-cannibal-muchomacho-badass thing is ridiculous. Ridicuous not because it is, but because we cannot relate it to any relation between any species at all. It is not an economically worthy behaviour for a species that needs to expand all of their energy in survival. Either you eat them, or you fuck them. Cats does not bange mice. Both things are not happening. Some dolphin species may rape smaller ones and kll them -not eating them, and quite surely not hunting them as the prey: even if they eat their carcass ocassionally does not mean that they are “in the menu”-. All possible findings in animals are NEVER main behaviours of ANY species, just happening occasionally on MARINE mammals. The whole “rape-and-devouring” thing is totally absent from nature and seems more like a MRA/Incel Alpha Male Fantasy than anything remotely related to animal behaviour anywhere. Of course, it “could” be possible, somehow, but it is CERTAINLY not the most economic and simpler explanation of the available evidence.

      I also smell some “genetic force to rape because Alpha genes” statemente here, but lets let my own bias apart from this.

      6) Neandertals do not seem to have develped human-hunting technology, like weight nets, hardened-wood swords or anything remotely adecuate. Their weaponry is to wrestle big animals, and their physique is also built for that. Again, if you are a sedentary dude you probably dont know this, but strength is not that a big deal in a fight. Its a resource, like many others. Sapiens (as i stated already before) were hunter-gatheres for much time by the momento of contact with neandertal. Very, very strong men and women by all standards. Perhaps not as strong as Neandertals, but “strong enough” to kill one if routinely attacked by them. I can easily kill a guy way stronger than me, without firearms, if i put myself at tactical advantage. And they have neither of Vendramini`s alleged behavioral limitations to do it. Hence, If Neanderthals were hunting us SPECIALLY they SHOULD have developed appropiate tools. And some means to catch us faster, much more run-enduring, and nimbler humans should we react at time. Nothing of this is seem, they just seem to have preferred big game. Heavy built is designed to fight with STRONGER things, not to overpower smaller ones. No animal at all is heavy built to chase nimbler prey, it would be stupid. Some do hunt by overpowering, byt they have other mobility advantages, like acceleration, that NEandertals could not have, least of all with the anatomical redesign of Vendramini.

      I think that these shouls sufice, but i thing that there are many more.

      • You’ve made some good points; thank you for contributing. Given how long ago this post was written, it’s amazing how Vendramini’s supporters keep popping up here, and it’s really nice to see someone like you joining in from a strong evidence-based perspective.

      • For (6), sexual violence and cannibalism have happened even in 20th-century conflicts among Homo sapiens sapiens (Hss). I admit I have not read the book but from reading Vendramini’s website, he is portraying Neanderthals (Hsn) as some kind of grotesque, gorilla-like creature. There is no apparent connection from that to “Alpha genes”, incels or “muchomacho” behaviour which are not what come to mind when looking at the attempted Hsn reconstructions on his website. It can be unhelpful to let perceptions of modern culture like these colour attempts to understand what prehistoric humans were like. Inter- and intra-subspecies rape and cannibalism were probably very widespread among both Hsn and Hss; it continued to happen long after Hsn went extinct (see my other comment for references).

        • “probably very widespread” could be, but precisely, we have a lot of evidence of when this happened, for example at Homo Antecessor time in today`s Spain, Atapuerca. The Rape thing is completely conjectural and particularly hard to source: We would only find cooked bones (as in Atapuerca) and we have no way to know if they were raped. Choosing explanations that cannot be proven even is a bit cheap. In fact, I can more easily understand that surviving post-Antecessor late Homo Erectus types engaged in this king of behavior against humans, than Neanderthals, as we at least know them doing that among themselves.

          Still, nothing ot that would explain my other points, specially those referring to the supposed changes in Hss behavior and paleoculture due to the shotl, that cannot be traced at all.

  • Thank you for commenting on this book. I needed to know if the book was credible. The Acknowledgments section starts off by stating that the author is building on the bricks of others then goes on to name several well-respected scientists including Svante Paabo who authored Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes which I had just read. If I hadn’t been reassured by the Acknowledgments, I wouldn’t have made it through the Preface. The WTF factor peaked at the claim of a population size of 50 (coincidentally the smallest size of unrelated individuals needed to prevent inbreeding per Britannica.com). The premise isn’t even logical; the population evolved in the middle east, picking up Neanderthal DNA there, then spread throughout the world including back into Africa where magically the Neanderthal DNA disappeared. Even though the article on the decoding of the Neanderthal genome wasn’t published until early 2010 (edition of the book I’m reading was published in 2012) there were earlier articles on Neanderthal DNA so the author has no excuse. Not to mention that a cannibalistic diet would’ve caused the fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a variant of the bovine mad cow disease).

    • You’re quite right; Vendramini has no excuse for getting it so wrong on the issue of Neandertal DNA. Thanks for coming by to comment 🙂

    • It is. But both Neanderthal and Neandertal are used in scientific journals and popular articles as a matter of course.

  • Vendramini’s crackpot theory is obviously false. I can somewhat understand a theory like that being promoted before 2010 when our knowledge about human evolution was much less advanced, and the general populace less informed. But I’m astonished that this theory is still being promoted today (obviously not by sites with credibility but still).
    I’m glad you debunked this, there’s far to much misinformation going around these days. I love this late prehistoric stuff and I wish there was more coverage if it. It’s just a shame that the water gets muddled with some misinformation/misunderstanding. Reminds me a bit of the ancient astronaut theory, it sounds cool but when you really put it under scrutiny it falls apart.
    Anyway, prompts to you for writing this masterpiece, it was a great read!

  • William Madison says:

    I look at the recreations of Neanderthals by modern anthropologists/artists and ask, where is the evidence for white skin, long beards, long hair, blond hair and projecting noses? Inuit have been living in the far north for thousands of years but the have flatter noses, darker skin and darker hair than even the most southern-most Europeans.

    Regarding clothing. A few posts mention that Europe wasn’t always in an ice age and that there were periods when the climate was much like today. I ask, is it possible to live in Europe today without clothes all year long?

    • Hi William – apologies for the delay in approving your post. A quick response to your questions.
      “I look at the recreations of Neanderthals by modern anthropologists/artists and ask, where is the evidence for white skin, long beards, long hair, blond hair and projecting noses?” – please can you identify these anthropologists/artists? Because I have never seen Neandertals represented in this way, and up-to-date reconstructions use a genetic information to inform their output – including skin colour & hair colour & texture.

      Interestingly, a reconstruction of the UK’s “Cheddar Man” has him with dark skin & hair & blue eyes, and that is for someone living around 10,000 years ago.

      “is it possible to live in Europe today without clothes all year long?” – not without getting rather cold in winter, I’d have thought? But why assume that Neandertals didn’t wear clothes?

  • Brian Hamilton says:

    Hey Allison,
    I just saw a video on YouTube promoting Vendramini’s book. I was rather skeptical of his claims, so I was glad to read your article and confirm some of my suspicions.

    I do have a couple questions. Vendramini’s video mentioned that there is no evidence that male homo sapiens mated with Neandertal females. Is there any evidence that’s true? Even if it is, does that necessarily validate his claims? I was just looking up coywolves and there is a Scientific American article which mentions, “Based on the genetic analyses, the team concluded that mating between female coyotes and male wolves was abundant.” If coywolves show similar genetic patterns without a history of wolves hunting and raping coyotes, that seems like it pokes a pretty big hole in his theory. However, I would be curious if you could elaborate on that suspicion.

    I also wondered about his claim that Neandertals may have had larger eyes than humans. It’s clear they had bigger eyes sockets. Is it possible they had larger eyes? I’d be curious to get your thoughts on this.

  • Hello,

    I too have stumbled across this theory and find it difficult to believe in for many reasons you and other commentators have stated. I do believe though that it is possible they had large, apelike eyes as this is not the first time I’ve heard suggestions that they lacked human eyes which would make them look kind of creepy.

    I also find it hard to believe though that the Neanderthal Male/Human Female pairing is the one that scientists go by. There isn’t evidence in humans for mitochondrial or Y Neanderthal DNA last I saw and there isn’t evidence of Human women being found with Neanderthal groups or any close living hybrids found. Sociologically it wouldn’t make sense as Neanderthals seemed to live in small families where the females married out, and they didn’t seem to have many children and lived in smaller families.

    Humans on the other hand existed in larger societies, had overall higher populations, were warlike and if more contemporary human social structures are anything to do by, raiding a cave and passing out female Neanderthals to men seems to fit the MO more. The children would be raised in a human environment where they not only would gain acceptance that way, but a male Neanderthal hybrid would be useful in a hunt. The genetic dying off of the Y and Mitochondrial DNA wouldn’t need to be explained in a obtuse way of “Well N-males mated with H-females somehow and they only had Hybrid Females or Hybrid Females were the only ones that survived etc.”

    We also have genetic evidence of Denisovans taking at least one Neanderthal female as a mate which suggests that Neanderthal females did indeed mate with non-Neanderthal males. She did live with the Denisovans and that meant she either married out or was taken by the Denisovans. Human women would not likely be as easily acquired due to Neanderthals living in small families and 3 Neanderthal males attacking a settlement of maybe 10 or 15 adults (while half are out hunting) is less likely to result in capturing women then say 20-30 men attacking a Neanderthal cave of 6-10.

    What are your thoughts on the eye thing as well as the genetics? Even if Neanderthals had creepy chimpanzee eyes, I think there would be horny humans willing to take whatever they could get in this time of pre-agriculture (where things were slightly less monogamous and guys at the top maybe had 2 or 3 wives) and it would be less likely that the smaller grouped, 1:1 male to female Neanderthals would be going out on rape sprees for anything on two legs.

  • Alfred Kinning says:

    Thank you for publishing this. I came across someone talking about this nonsensical “theory” and thought I was going to go crazy after sitting around for hours just mulling over the reasons why it’s blatant garbage. Even total amateurs are familiar with the trivia that genes for red hair have been identified in Neandertals, so why exactly an “accurate” Neandertal would look like an upright gorilla is beyond me. If one wants to caution against excessive anthropomorphism that’s one thing, but Vendramini’s claims obviously go much too far in the opposite direction.

  • The fur and pupil claims are ridiculous for obvious reasons but cannibalism and rape are not. Sexual violence during conflict is common even in modern times (ISIS, Rwandan genocide, Bosnian War, Vietnam War, WW2, etc.), and I see no reason to think that H. s. neanderthalensis was a more noble human than H. s. sapiens in this respect. Considering the shared lineage between Hss and Hsn, it should be claimed differences that are subject to greater scrutiny, not claimed similarities. There is no Hsn mtDNA in modern humans,[5][6] and the offspring of male Hss and female Hsn were probably sterile,[7] as were male offspring of male Hsn – female Hss pairings.[8] This would actually line up with the dynamic that Vendramini is suggesting (but on a far smaller scale).

    There is evidence of widespread cannibalism by prehistoric Hss.[1] In modern times, cannibalism is reported during famine (WW2, Bengal famines) or sometimes during conflict (WW2), with smaller-scale practice surviving even longer, like the ritual cannibalism of the Fore people, or even more recently, rebels groups in Liberia.[2] Were Hsn so different from us in this? Simon Underdown hypothesised that Hsn’s extinction could have in part been driven by prion diseases similar to kuru that the formerly ritual-cannibalistic Fore people suffered from, with Hsn lacking a certain resistant genetic mutation that is widespread in Hss.[3][4] This is not to say that Hsn were specifically targeting Hss and that a predator-prey relationship existed as Vendramini thinks, but more that intra- and inter-subspecies cannibalism might have been practiced, with only Hss surviving the practice.

    Another thing is the Hss population bottleneck he argues was caused by Hsn. Several population bottlenecks may have happened prior to H. erectus, and even a more recent one is not off the table.[9] But Vendramini’s claim that Hss were reduced to 50 people is ludicruous even if he could prove that all surviving Hss descend from a recent group of 50 people. Consider this scenario: a group of 60 people decide that they will only interbreed within themselves; over the years, their pure inbred offspring reach a population size of 1e6. They then hide in a bunker and nuke the rest of the world(s), causing the extinction of Hss outside their bunker. All surviving Hss are now descended from a group of 60, but at no point has the population dipped below 1e6. Now replace the nukes and bunkers with whatever may have been more realistic in distant prehistoric times (climate change, disease, competition), and you can get the appearance of a genetic population bottleneck of 50, without Hsn actually hunting Hss down to 50 individuals, and without the population never falling to any close to 50.

    I agree that in the grand scheme of things, the selection pressure that Hsn applied on Hss as a whole (as opposed to individual Hsn tribes on individual Hss tribes) was probably very small, but I think there are some small grains of truth in what Vendramini is saying.

    1. Hollingham, Richard. “Natural born cannibals”. New Scientist. 2004.
    2. Gillison, Gillian. “From Cannibalism to Genocide: The Work of Denial”. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 2006.
    3. Underdown, Simon. “A potential role for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in Neanderthal extinction”. Medical Hypotheses. 2008.
    4. Libersky, Pawel. “Kuru: A journey back n time from Papua New Guinea to the Neanderthals’ extinction”. Pathogens. 2013.
    5. “No evidence of Neandertal mtDNA contribution to early modern humans”. PLOS Biology. 2004.
    6. “Biparental inheritance of mitochondrial DNA in humans”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2018.
    7. “The combined landscape of Denisovan and Neanderthal ancestry in present-day humans”. Current Biology. 2016.
    8. “The Divergence of Neandertal and Modern Human Y Chromosomes”. American Journal of Human Genetics. 2016.
    9. “Population bottlenecks and Pleistocene human evolution”. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 2000.

    • Some interesting comments, thank you, & I’ll respond in more detail when I’ve had time to follow up on your references. Just for now I’ll point out that Medical Hypotheses is not a particularly good reference to be using here, since it publishes hypotheses, no matter how way-out-there they may be.

  • I read this book when it was first advertised. That is about a decade ago. In the meantime, more evidence-backed hypotheses appeared and genetics backed much of the new emerging theories.
    In that sense Vendramanis book: Them and Us receded into the background due to a lack of evidence backing analysis. It, therefore, remained a gobbledegook theory.
    DNA analysis links back to a time and place and this is a scientifically accepted way of thinking. God knows when it will change course once again.
    The book presents an argument from a socio-scientific angle with few clear dots making up the final assumption. In this sense, we can only think there were ogres and ghosts and all sorts of paranormal goings-on to create the current human race. At times the book vaguely promotes Creationism at a distorted argument. We all know where Creationism started and we still know where it will end.
    The graphics in the book are presented in such a way to drive our imaginations downstream and make us believe that giant men with slit eyes and cannibal hunches were our forebears
    That is all the book does.
    As for heterodox thinking- wtf is that?
    No doubt, a re-release of the book will sell more copies. Readers love a fairy tale. As for a profound theory, it lacks much brain. To me, it reads more like how mushrooms grew the human race. Possible? Yeah. Thanks.

  • ” the norm these days is to use ‘Neandertal’, after the correct German spelling”

    1) there is no such norm; I’ve seen the -th- spelling far more often than the -t- spelling
    2) when someone starts off by shoving this kind of supercilious nonsense into their piece, it’s usually a good sign that if you poke at the rest of the argument you’ll find it’s full of shit. GUESS WHAT

    ” (thus conflating two ideas – not all nocturnal predators live in snow-covered lands – on the basis of zero evidence, since eyeballs don’t fossilise).”

    This is a nonsense criticism. Obviously eyeballs don’t fossilize, and obviously it’s unprovable speculation. It is a fact that the glaciation existed and that conditions were significantly colder. It is also a fact that Neanderthals have larger eye sockets than Cro-Magnons. That would be consistent with lower light conditions, but the combination of larger eyes and increased reflection from more snow makes some sort of adaptation likely. As a speculation, slit eyes isn’t crazy at all.

    “And the claims of rape and cannibalism are fairly extraordinary.”

    Not even close to extraordinary. Non-African humans have Neanderthal DNA. Non-African humans have mitochondrial DNA of fairly recent African origin. The only way that works is if male Neanderthals (bigger, stronger, heavier) are fucking female Cro-Magnons. At that point the odds of rape are already a coin flip. And evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism has been repeatedly published. The dead giveaway here is that you handwave at this and then ignore it without providing any evidence at all supporting the claim that non-consensual interbreeding might have been the norm (for whatever reason, using whatever evidence – but that’s because there is none) or that cannibalism never happened (which you can’t, because what evidence there is goes the other way).

    “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence”

    FALSE. And conclusive proof of your total mathematical and logical illiteracy.

    Given
    1) A is evidence of B: P(B|A) > P(B|`A)
    2) Absence of evidence: a=`A
    3) Absence: b=`B
    Then:
    P(B|A) > P(B|`A)
    (The probability of B given evidence A is greater than that of B given an absence of evidence A. This is pretty much what evidence MEANS.)
    1-P(`B|A) > 1-P(`B|`A)
    (Taking the complement; basic math.)
    P(`B|A) P(`B|“A)
    (The probability of B being false given a lack of evidence A is greater than that of B being false if one does not have such a lack. Again, blindingly obvious.)
    P(b|a) > P(b|`a)
    (The probability of absence given an absence of evidence is greater than the probability of absence given the opposite of such an absence. Absence of evidence IS evidence of absence.)
    QED.
    (With thanks to Kim Oyhus.)

    “I’ll respond in more detail when I’ve had time to follow up on your references.”

    Of course, when presented with the systematically detailed and sourced evidence blowing your silly assertions out of the water, you handwave and run away.

    Congratulations. You’ve convinced me that you’re a bullshitter pushing a political line and that Vendramini is on to something.

    • 1) there is no such norm; I’ve seen the -th- spelling far more often than the -t- spelling
      2) when someone starts off by shoving this kind of supercilious nonsense into their piece, it’s usually a good sign that if you poke at the rest of the argument you’ll find it’s full of shit. GUESS WHAT

      I don’t really care what you’ve seen; I wrote this post more than a decade ago (what is it about Vendramini’s fanbois & their necromancy of old posts) & at the time there was quite a bit of discussion about which common usage was preferable given that the German spelling for “valley” had updated from “thal” to “tal”. The only one being supercilious here is you.

      This is a nonsense criticism. Obviously eyeballs don’t fossilize, and obviously it’s unprovable speculation. It is a fact that the glaciation existed and that conditions were significantly colder. It is also a fact that Neanderthals have larger eye sockets than Cro-Magnons. That would be consistent with lower light conditions, but the combination of larger eyes and increased reflection from more snow makes some sort of adaptation likely. As a speculation, slit eyes isn’t crazy at all.
      Vendramini doesn’t appear to be speculating when he makes these claims.
      It’s a fact that glaciation existed for some of the time when Neandertals were around. During interglacials, things were quite a bit warmer & the posited slit-like pupils would not have provided an advantage. Furthermore, there are quite a number of predatory species that spend a fair bit of time on the snow & which have not evolved this feature: canids and raptors, & ursids are three such groups. Vertical slit pupils are seen in smaller ambush predators that often hunt at night – something primates don’t really do as they don’t have particularly good night vision.

      And evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism has been repeatedly published. On cannibalism – there’s still not a great deal of evidence that Neanderthals were cannibalistic, compared to what was available back in 2010. A more recent analysis suggests the consumption of other Neanderthals was opportunistic, not the norm (https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/03/climate-change-may-have-driven-a-band-of-neanderthals-to-cannibalism/). Cannibalism by definition is within a species, not the consumption of other species (& there is good evidence of cannibalism of sapiens by sapiens, as I noted in the original post.

      “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence”

      FALSE. And conclusive proof of your total mathematical and logical illiteracy.
      Biology isn’t a matter of mathematical proofs.

      Congratulations. You’ve convinced me that you’re a bullshitter pushing a political line and that Vendramini is on to something.
      Ha. Haha. Hahahahaha.

  • There would be very clear genetic evidence that the human population had a 50 individual bottleneck – and this would have been picked up in fields unconcerned with any Neanderthal predation hypothesis. Wouldn’t it have been catastrophic for Neanderthals if their prey population dwindled to 50? Wouldn’t you always need more prey than predators? Wouldn’t those 50 people in the Levant have a huge amount of Neanderthal DNA given the claims? There seems to have been many places where humans and Neanderthals did not coexist. Australians were isolated from Neanderthals before Neanderthals went extinct. Neanderthals were not widespread in Africa. Neanderthals colonized Eurasia before humans were common there. This seems to degrade the predator-prey relationship. Why was Vendraminis work not validated by others in the field? Why does it matter if we put the H in Neanderthal? Giving this hypothesis a fair glance, it seems to contradict a lot of established evidence without replacing or incorporating it. It’s just not strong enough to hop on. It is very exciting – but there’s just not enough there and virtually no professional support.

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