(ORDO NEWS) — About 600,000 years ago, humanity split in two. One group remained in Africa and became modern humans. Another went overland to Asia, then to Europe, becoming Homo neanderthalensis – Neanderthals. They were not our ancestors, but related species developing in parallel.
It is tempting to see Neanderthals in idyllic conditions, living peacefully with nature and with each other.
Biology and paleontology paint a darker picture. The Neanderthals were far from peaceful, and most likely were skilled fighters and dangerous warriors that only modern humans could rival.
Carnivorous land mammals are territorial animals. Like lions, wolves, and Homo sapiens, Neanderthals were big game hunters. At the top of the food chain, these predators have few enemies, so overpopulation leads to conflicts over hunting grounds. Neanderthals faced the same problem; if other species did not control their numbers, a conflict would arise.
This territoriality is deeply rooted in people. Territorial conflicts are also intense among our closest relatives, chimpanzees. Male chimpanzees usually group together to attack and kill males from rival groups, behavior strikingly similar to human warfare.
This means that joint aggression arose in the common ancestor of chimpanzees and in ourselves 7 million years ago. In this case, the Neanderthals have inherited the same tendencies towards joint aggression.
War is an integral part of human existence. War is not a modern invention, but an ancient, fundamental part of our humanity. Historically, all peoples have fought. Archeology uncovers ancient fortresses and battlegrounds, as well as sites of prehistoric mass conflicts that have taken place for millennia.
Fighting is human, and the Neanderthals were very much like us. We are remarkably similar in the anatomy of our skull and skeleton and share 99.7% of our DNA.
And in behavior, the Neanderthals were strikingly similar to us. They made fires, buried their dead, molded decorations from shells and animal teeth, made works of art and stone shrines. If Neanderthals shared so many of our creative instincts, they also shared many of our destructive instincts.
Archaeological evidence confirms that the life of the Neanderthals was far from peaceful.
The Neanderthals were skilled big game hunters, using spears to kill deer, mountain goats, elk, bison, even rhinos and mammoths. It is hard to believe that they would not have dared to use this weapon if their families and lands were in danger. Archeology suggests that such conflicts were common.
Prehistoric wars are leaving clear signs. The club is a powerful and accurate weapon, which is why the discovered prehistoric Homo sapiens often have skull injuries. It’s the same with the Neanderthals.
Injuries were especially common among young Neanderthals, as were deaths. Some injuries may have been sustained while hunting, but most are typical for people involved in inter-tribal war – small-scale but intense, with a predominance of guerrilla raids and ambushes.
The war leaves a thin trace in the form of territorial boundaries. The best evidence that the Neanderthals not only fought, but also succeeded in war, is that when they met us, they were not immediately destroyed. Instead, for nearly 100,000 years, Neanderthals have resisted modern human expansion.
Even after primitive Homo sapiens broke out of Africa 200,000 years ago, it took more than 150,000 years to conquer the lands of the Neanderthals. In Israel and Greece, archaic Homo sapiens occupied territories only to retreat back. Before the last offensive of modern Homo sapiens, which began 125,000 years ago, destroyed them.
This was not a blitzkrieg, as one might expect, whether Neanderthals were pacifists or inferior warriors, but a long war of attrition. In the end, we won. But not because they were less inclined to fight. In the end, we just became better warriors than them.
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