Neanderthals and humans engaged in brutal guerrilla warfare around the world for more than 100,000 years, evidence suggests.
Neanderthals and modern humans are known to have descended from the same evolutionary branch. Our shared genome is 99.7% similar.
About 600 thousand years ago, our ancestors split into two parts. Those who later became known as Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals) set out to explore Eurasia. Homo sapiens remained in Africa for several hundred millennia.
Then, however, the sapiens, following their cousins, also went to another continent. Now archaeologists and anthropologists are studying how these two species coexisted in the same territories, reports sciencealert.com.
Both Neanderthals and Sapiens were skilled hunters, good fighters with good organizational skills. However, due to the structural features of the body, the ancestors of modern humans were more fertile. This is one of the reasons why they migrated out of Africa – in search of food resources.
At that time, however, Neanderthals occupied the richest territories of Eurasia, and this led to a long period of rivalry between the two species.
At the same time, due to the similarity between the genomes of humans and Neanderthals, scientists came to the conclusion that our relatives have the same instincts to defend their territories.
Nicholas Longrich, senior lecturer in evolutionary biology and palaeontology at the University of Bath, believes the struggle for dominance in Eurasia lasted more than 100,000 years.
“The best evidence that Neanderthals not only fought but succeeded in war is that they were not immediately defeated. Instead, for about 100,000 years, Neanderthals resisted the expansion of modern humans,” says the scientist.
It also notes that, based on everything researchers know about the habits of modern humans, it is unlikely that once they have encountered rivals in vast territories rich in prey, humans will allow them to remain.
One of the reasons why the sapiens sought to exterminate the Neanderthals could be demographic.
“Population growth inevitably forces people to occupy more land to provide enough hunting and foraging territory for their offspring,” the paleontologist added.
But the fact that the struggle lasted so long proves that the Neanderthals were no less skillful, skilled and brave warriors than our species. In weaponry, tactics, strategy, humans and Neanderthals were roughly equal.
But at some point there was a turn in these wars. What is the reason is not known for sure. One of the likely factors, scientists believe, is the invention of long-range weapons.
“Perhaps the invention of long-range weapons – bows, javelins, throwing clubs – allowed the more mentally developed Homo sapiens to defeat the stocky, brutish Neanderthals from a distance without direct contact. A hit-and-run tactic was used, Nicholas Longrich reasoned.
Another reason may be the ingenuity of sapiens, which allows them to obtain more prey with less effort. Thus, better-fed males have more strength for long fights.
In addition, the more abundant and satisfying food increases the survival rate of the children, thus giving the sapiens numerical superiority.
The scientist emphasizes that if the Neanderthals were pacifists, as some researchers tend to believe, the war would have ended much faster.
It is likely that sapiens at some point managed to become more skilled warriors than their relatives. This is the most likely reason why modern humans conquered the planet.