Dark-skinned Homo sapiens began to displace light-skinned Neanderthals, native Europeans, only when onions were brought to Europe. Is the neanderthal extinction mystery finally coming to a close?
The biggest mystery in early human history
At the beginning of the XXI century, it became clear that at least five to six intelligent species lived on the planet from 300 to 40-50 thousand years ago. People of the modern type, Homo sapiens, arose in Africa no later than 340 thousand years ago. Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, appeared somewhere in Eurasia around the same time. In parallel with them, Denisovans lived in Asia.
In addition to these three species, there was also a man of flores (Homo floresiensis), probably a man of Luzon (Homo luzonensis) and ice (Homo naledi). The first three species showed a similar level of development and technology: we, Neanderthals and Denisovans. The question arose: why do people exist today, and the Neanderthals and Denisovans no longer have direct descendants?
Yes, Neanderthals left a couple of percent of genes in Caucasians and Mongoloids, and Denisovans left three to five percent of genes in most Asians, but these are trace amounts. At the same time, basic Homo sapiens, without Neanderthal and Denisovan admixtures, still exist in Africa (moreover, their share in the total number of people is growing rapidly), and basic Neanderthals and Denisovans are nowhere to be found. Obviously, people drove them out. It is less obvious why this happened.
How advanced were the relatives we ousted
After the discovery of the first Neanderthal skull, some scientists stated that it belongs to an idiot with some strange head shape. Natural scientist Ernst Haeckel in the 1860s even proposed to name the new species Homo stupidus, which means "stupid man." However, towards the end of the 19th century, many finds sharply corrected this view.
It turned out that the size of the brain part of the skull of a Neanderthal is larger than that of modern humans, and the same as that of ancient Homo sapiens (those had a brain 5-10% larger than ours). About 100 thousand years ago, the "stupid man" was already eating boiled barley porridge (wild). Those who suffered from toothaches were anesthetized with salicylic acid (then it was obtained from the bark of trees, today it is included in aspirin) and chewed penicillin mold, which held back the growth of bacteria. It turns out that they used antibiotics, albeit of natural origin, tens of thousands of years before the first case of this kind was recorded among humans.
When archaeologists found a strange bone "spoon" of unknown purpose at the site of this species, the workers of the French company Hermes immediately recognized it as their own tools for making leather goods, including Birkin bags. It turns out that the Neanderthals 41-47 thousand years ago used the same tools for making leather as Homo sapiens in the 21st century.
Examples of their advancement in material culture can be cited for a long time. They also have discoveries that have never been used by a modern man, but clearly useful in the Stone Age. For example, they used the mineral pyrolusite (manganese dioxide), crushed into powder, to start a fire. Finding it at the fires of the Neanderthals, scientists for a long time could not understand the purpose of the mineral. Only experiments in laboratories showed that when it is added to wood, its ignition temperature drops from more than 350 degrees to only 250. Manganese dioxide works as a catalyst, but does not burn by itself: to guess that it facilitates the ignition of wood, you need an extraordinary thinking.It becomes clear why people of our kind for fifty thousand years could not think of such a "stone ignition".
Let's forget for a second about material culture, cooking and medicine. Even more interesting is that the first drawings on Earth were also made by them, and not by Homo sapiens. Finally, a lot of pollen is found in the graves of Neanderthals. Of course, a number of archaeologists are trying to challenge the idea that they buried the dead with flowers, but the arguments against this are rather weak. Trying to explain the presence of pollen there, others suggest that bees brought it to the grave. The problem is that a grave in a hole dug in a cave is a rather strange place for pollinating insects. About 176 thousand years ago, European Neanderthals created cave sanctuaries, where parts of animals were burned on an altar among a circle of specially placed stalagmitic fragments.
A similar picture developed for the Denisovites. The oldest needle with an eye was found today in their cave. The first traces of a product obtained by drilling on a machine were also found there. Moreover, these traces are at least 40 thousand years older than the first drilling on a machine, fixed by Homo sapiens.
This picture created great complexity. Advanced species do not die out just like that, meanwhile, when a person comes to Europe 40-45 thousand years ago, the Neanderthal quickly disappears from it. The same thing seems to have happened with the Denisovans in Asia.
To solve the riddle, a version was put forward that before modern humans, other species of Homo were at odds with spatial thinking and could not use throwing weapons. The version seemed logical: from the data of ethnographers it is known that hunter-gatherers of people know how to throw spears, although many of them do not own bows and spear throwers. The Neanderthals did not have any signs of throwing spears, which means that they did not know how.
However, in the 1990s in Schöningen, Germany, the remains of ten spears, about two meters long, were found. On their model, with exact observance of the dimensions, new ones were made, which were used for experimental throws. It turned out to be slightly wider in the front than in the back, a balance ideal for throwing, but not suitable for working at close range. Modern javelin throwers who were given these replicas to try found them just as comfortable as modern sports javelins. Despite a small number of attempts, athletes were able to throw replicas at a distance of up to 70 meters. Near the spears, tens of thousands of bones of horses, deer and bison were found. Apparently, this is not a coincidence: the spears were lost at the site of a mass hunt for these animals.
The most interesting of all is the age of the copies - at least 300 thousand years. That is, either the Neanderthals or their direct ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis, could have left them. It turns out that the Neanderthals from the very beginning used excellent throwing weapons - no worse than the current sports ones.
In the same place, wooden skewers, similar to those used for shashlik today (with traces of being on fire), were found, as well as a wooden tool that was interpreted as a spear thrower. One could still put up with barbecue 300 thousand years ago - although we note that in our species the most ancient preserved skewers date back to the 17th century BC, the period of the Cretan-Minoan civilization. But the spear thrower is no longer compatible with the idea of a species whose brain is unsuitable for the use of throwing weapons.
The spear thrower allows you to throw darts at a distance of up to 150 meters and has good accuracy in the first tens of meters. Unlike a spear thrown by hand (the speed limit is about 20 meters per second), a dart from a spear thrower accelerates to 40 meters per second and higher. That is, its kinetic energy is four times greater and sufficient to kill even a large animal. Not long ago, the natives of Australia killed even the largest kangaroos with them, and the very ability to use a spear thrower has not been lost there until now (see video below).
Schöningen's conditions are unique: the brown coal seam where the spears were found prevented the wooden objects from decomposing. Normally, this does not happen: wooden tools do not live for hundreds of thousands of years. There are no more such finds, and even for modern people they appeared only when spear throwers began to be made from bone - about 20 thousand years ago. Obviously, the Neanderthals have hardly forgotten the spear-throwing technology known to their ancestors for a long time. The ability to massively drive herds of horses and bison means that their groups were able to attack in a coordinated manner, according to a single plan. It doesn’t seem like it was easy for modern humans to oust them.
The first attempt at an African assault on Europe
This year, there was clear evidence that the first attempt by people to gain a foothold in Europe ended badly for them. In Greece, they carefully studied the long-found human skull and found out that it had been incorrectly identified at one time. The occipital part of the skull is rounded, not pointed like in the Neanderthal. These are either the remains of pure Homo sapiens, or a hybrid of a Neanderthal with a modern human. The skull is 210 thousand years old.
Meanwhile, in the DNA of all people known today, there is only one ancestral group - and, judging by the data of geneticists, it left Africa only 70 thousand years ago. The contradiction can only be resolved in one way: it turns out that Homo sapiens got to Europe 210 thousand years ago, but then all the descendants of this group died, and the Neanderthals in Europe, on the contrary, lived happily for another 170 thousand years. This means that the first meeting of our species and native Europeans ended with the victory of the fair-skinned northerners.
Second attempt: technological breakthrough
In the fall of 2019, another work was published: Japanese and Italian researchers carefully studied 146 microliths of the same type - small stone tools made in the shape of a crescent and previously found in the Horse Cave (Grotta del Cavallo) in southern Italy. The finds are firmly dated 40-45 thousand years and belong to the Uluzzin archaeological culture - one of the first related to modern humans in Europe.
There were micro-chips and cracks on the tools. To understand how they arose, the authors of the work made copies of such microliths and attached them as points to both spears and throwing darts and arrows. Spears, darts and arrows hit the conventional targets, and then compared the cracks from wear with those found on the excavated "crescents". It turned out that the wear marks of ancient weapons are exactly the same as those of the tips of darts and arrows thrown by a computer thrower for bows. The wear of the tips of conventional spears - both for close combat and throwing by hand - is completely different.
Chemical analysis has shown that their rounded, non-pointed side contains traces of a complex mixture of substances, including ocher, vegetable gum, and beeswax. These are several discoveries at once in one: earlier, there was no data on the use of beeswax by any of the ancient people. Another discovery: this mixture must be a strong adhesive. There are no signs of wear on the rounded parts of the microliths, only this glue. Obviously, the "crescents" were attached to arrows or darts with glue, so when firing them, there was wear and tear only from the front, pointed side.
Bow vs spear thrower
Unfortunately, experiments do not distinguish a former dart tip from a former spearhead in terms of wear. But it is very important to determine what exactly was used by the second wave of black colonizers of Europe.
The fact is that bows of that time were a specific weapon. To understand how risky it is to hunt a large animal with him, it is worth recalling a story that happened 13,700 years ago. Then a hunter of 20-23 years old attacked a five-year-old bear in a cave, wounded her with an arrow, and it was successful - fragments of the tip in the spine indicate a well-aimed shot at an important part of the body for the animal. However, she did not die, but hid in a cave wounded. Judging by the pieces of charcoal, the hunter tried to smoke her out with the smoke from a fire made near the entrance.
His move was successful, but risky: the bear actually left the cave, attacking him right by the fire. He answered with a spear, in the end, both died on the spot. All this archaeologists learned from the fact that the hunter's relatives did not find him, and both skeletons remained in the cave. It can be seen from this tragedy of the Stone Age: not only a mammoth with a bison, but also a bear is extremely difficult to kill even by an excellent archer with very strong arms (judging by the relief left by the muscles on the skeleton).
At the sites of all kinds of ancient people in Europe 20-45 thousand years ago, there are few bones of small animals. Apparently, the hunters of that time preferred mammoths, bison and similar big game. This is logical: these give a lot more meat per unit of time spent than small animals. For hunting a mammoth, arrows are practically useless. Even in Africa, where there are many plant poisons, the elephant is not hunted with poisoned arrows: the required amount of poison into the body of a multi-ton animal simply cannot be delivered with arrows. This means that the bow did not give a noticeable advantage during the hunt. To pierce the skin of a mammoth or bison, a spear or heavy dart is more suitable.
A spear thrower differs from a bow in that it is difficult to make more than five or six aimed throws per minute from it. As a rule, a dart thrown from a spear thrower is several times heavier than an arrow, therefore it flies more slowly. The animal is not smart enough to dodge it.
Why did the ancient people use a bow, if a spear thrower is more effective against their hunting prey? The fact is that people use weapons not only against animals. Human skin is thinner, much lighter than bison skins, and can be pierced even with light arrows. If they have a pointed stone tip, then they can cause great damage to our body: we have many large arteries in a few millimeters from the skin. An arrow is smaller than a javelin dart and flies faster, so it is more difficult for a person to dodge it. Due to the mass and size of the darts, you cannot take more than five or six pieces of them with you, and you can carry dozens of arrows.
These are not just theoretical considerations. On the territory of present-day Kenya, in Nataruk Cave, a series of skeletons and arrowheads were recently found, all 10 thousand years old. Microlithic arrowheads left characteristic chips on the turtles, next to which the arrowheads themselves were found. This is the oldest evidence of the defeat of a living creature with a bow, and it is symbolic that such a living creature was another person, and not at all an animal on the hunt.
Judging by chimpanzees, human relatives have been at war with each other since ancient times. In 1974-1978, two groups of chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park (Tanzania) systematically staged surprise attacks on each other. The conflict ended only when the second group lost all males and half of the females, and the other half of the females were captured and forced into the first group. The first group occupied enemy territory - until the third group drove the first out of there. If chimpanzees know how to fight with representatives of their own species, then why can't Homo sapiens fight with representatives of other species - Neanderthals and Denisovans?
An indirect answer to the question of what the black conquerors of Europe inserted "crescents" into may be their clear victory over the Neanderthals. Judging by Schoeningen, they had a spear thrower. This means that if people of the modern type who came to the same continent knew only her, it would be more difficult to win opposition to them. But neither the Neanderthals nor the Denisovans show any signs of onions - neither microlithic tips, nor anything else. For hunting animals, a microlithic tip is not at all necessary.
Africa: the planet's first military and technological leader
In order to find out for sure what exactly blacks came to explore Europe with, it is useful to turn to their ancestral home - Africa.Several years ago, the first obvious arrowheads were found there: in the Border caves in the south of the continent there are bone arrowheads, in size and shape that completely coincide with those that the San (Bushmen) peoples used until the 20th century.
The specificity of these arrowheads is that, as noted by archaeologists, they are rather light and cannot be sized to fit a spear thrower. Another feature of them is the presence on the back of the resin traces of a local tree, which makes them similar to the finds from the Horse Cave in Europe.
However, in the Bushmen, both bows and arrows themselves are too light to cause significant damage to large animals. Meanwhile, 100 and 40 thousand years ago in South Africa, near the tips of such arrows, there are bones of buffalo and bush pigs. These are very dangerous creatures, contact combat with which is highly undesirable even when using good melee weapons. The Bushmen of recent centuries have won victory because they poisoned their arrows. Archaeologists believe that they did the same 44-45 thousand years ago (such dates are at the first arrowheads in South Africa). These are the same times as the stone points from the Horse Cave in southern Italy.
So, at least 45 thousand years ago, a bow, arrows and the custom of poisoning them with herbal poisons appeared in Africa. About 45 thousand years ago, stone tools, typical for South Africa, appear in the East: the ancestors of the Bushmen migrated to the north. The authors of a new work on arrowheads from southern Italy note: the Ulazzin culture is archaeologically similar to its simultaneous East African ones. The suggestion is that the Bushmen movement north was so successful because they brought with them a bow and arrow, the first rapid-fire remote weapon in human history.
Two hundred and ten thousand years ago, there was no trace of such an advanced technology as onions in Africa. Obviously, the first wave of immigrants from there was able to reach Europe, but without a bow and arrow, "did not draw out" competition with the Neanderthals. This is logical: those, judging by the skeleton, had not only fair skin and blue eyes. The muscle relief on their bones is deeper, that is, they were stronger. The skeletons show that they are built more densely than modern people. The nasal cavities better retain the warmth of the air when breathing. In cold Europe, they were at home, but black immigrants from Africa could seriously suffer from the local climate. Without a serious technological edge, they were doomed.
Forty-five thousand years ago, in a second attempt at colonization, blacks brought with them the most advanced remote assassination technology on the planet. The speed of their spread in that era is amazing: 65 thousand years ago, immigrants from Africa had already reached Australia, settling the Andaman Islands and, possibly, part of India along the way. They carried microliths with them. Already 45 thousand years ago they brought them to Europe and Sri Lanka, in Australia microliths appeared even earlier - with the very first finds of people. Until then, the history of mankind did not know such a rapid colonization of huge spaces with completely different climates and natural conditions. It seems that the bow and arrow may indeed be the answer to the question of how humans drove out such advanced Neanderthals and Denisovans.