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Blame the Dog

By (March 1, 2015) 35 Comments

The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction
By Pat Shipman
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015

invadersThe humans who lived in Europe during the Pleistocene 45,000 years ago faced a fierce world. Their populations had endured sweeping climate changes over the centuries, and they shared their landscape with animals as monstrous as anything the world had seen since the dinosaurs: massive cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, lions bigger than any in Africa today, cave hyenas, huge woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceri, wolves, leopards, roving packs of dholes – a world as fearsome and strange as something out of a science fiction novel.

And one of the strangest things about that world was those humans themselves, because they weren’t us. They were squatter, heavier, hairier, much stronger. They had very large brains, very skillful hands, a strongly family-oriented culture, and considerable technological capabilities. They were a species of human we know as Homo neanderthalensis, the Neanderthals, and they’d lived and laughed and hunted and died for millennia in Eurasia, weathering radical climate shifts and game migrations, raising their young, caring for their infirm, and burying their dead.

Things had been like that in Eurasia for hundreds of thousands of years. Then, roughly 40,000 years ago, everything began to change in what, anthropologically speaking, amounts to an eye-blink of time. Cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, mammoths, rhinos, lions, leopards, dholes … fierce as they were, they all vanished from the forests and steppes of Eurasia. And Neanderthal populations first drastically dwindled and then vanished as well, and now, in our time, for two hundred years, ever since the discovery of the first Neanderthal fossils, debate has raged as to what caused this catastrophic die-off. Did the climate shift too suddenly for adaptation or migration to keep pace? Did reproductively vulnerable species ‘bottleneck’ and enter irretrievable decline? Unlike with the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, which was precipitated by a cataclysmic asteroid strike, the near-total extinction of the Pleistocene Eurasian species spectrum has no one prevailing theory to explain things.

There is an overwhelmingly likely culprit, however. Scientists, much like Sherlock Holmes, try never to theorize in advance of the facts, but nevertheless, something happened to the continent of Eurasia right before all its megafauna – including its resident species of human being – disappeared.

Modern humans happened. Homo sapiens arrived in Eurasia roughly 45,000 years ago, and very shortly thereafter, virtually every large species of prey animal and competing predator was gone. The patently obvious deduction is that Homo sapiens intentionally and methodically wiped out all those other species.

But science teaches the invaluable habit of distrusting the patently obvious, and so retired anthropology professor Pat Shipman takes very little for granted in her endlessly fascinating new book The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals Sapiens_neanderthal_comparisonto Extinction. In fact, she has her own hypothesis to put forward as to a key factor that hastened the Neanderthals’ demise. Perhaps you spotted it in her book’s subtitle.

Shipman characterizes modern humans as the ultimate invasive species, flooding into a new ecosystem and radically destabilizing every aspect of it. In her clear-cut and pervasively (but perhaps not entirely intentionally?) ironic chapter “What Does an Invasion Look Like?”, Shipman illustrates the whole concept of invasive species with a modern example: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the much-smaller Yellowstone National Park inside it. The Park was officially designated in 1872, long before which the native inhabitants of the region, the Shoshone, Nez Perce, Crow, Cheyenne, and others, had been driven off or exterminated – at which point, Shipman writes, “The incoming white human settlers functioned as an invasive predator and promptly eliminated their chief remaining rivals, the wolves.” In 1915 the Federal Bureau of Biological Survey and its Division of Predator and Rodent Control sought to wipe out all large predators from federal lands, which in the case of wolves was largely accomplished by the 1930s.

And as Shipman succinctly points out, “The removal of wolves, the indigenous apex predator, made a huge difference to the ecosystem.” Everything from elk population to foliage density was altered, and it all began to alter again when wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995-96:

Almost as soon as wolves were released in 1995, they began killing and driving away coyotes. It was as if the first item on their agenda was “get rid of coyotes,” as the ranchers’ and settlers’ agenda had been first “get rid of Indians” and then “get rid of wolves.” Quite simply, the wolves would not tolerate the presence of coyote rivals in their territories – and they were equally merciless with members of other wolf packs that strayed onto their turf.

And if modern humans and wolves sound formidable individually, imagine how much more formidable they’d be if they worked together. That’s the heart of Shipman’s hypothesis: that Homo sapiens, roughly ten thousand years after arriving in Eurasia, stumbled onto a crucial adaptation that had eluded all other apex predators before them: making an alliance with another apex predator. Somehow, modern humans forged a symbiotic relationship with wolves that quickly led to a kind of wolf-dog that was no longer entirely wild. Homo sapiens had domesticated the competition.

Shipman theorizes that it was a feat Neanderthals couldn’t match. “Whatever abilities modern humans used to capture and apparently domesticate wolves into wolf-dogs,” she writes, “were either unknown to Neanderthals or beyond their capabilities.” She even offers an intriguing possibility for what Homo sapiens‘ x-factor might have been: the whites of their eyes! The idea being that the white sclera surrounding the modern human iris greatly facilitates gaze-directed silent hunting – an obvious advantage in tracking prey – and that it’s something certain kind of canids share to a greater degree than others (hence the centrality of bright-eyed wolf to the story rather than, say, omnipresent but black-eyed bush dog). Thus the tendency of modern Men_of_the_old_stone_age_(1915)_Wolfdog-owners to stare meaningfully into their dogs’ upturned faces might be vital in explaining how either the dog-owner or the dog is here at all.

Modern humans, Shipman contends, in forming this kind of “unprecedented alliance with another species … created for ourselves an ability to borrow the traits of other species and use them to enhance our own survival in almost every habitat on the planet.” Wolves instinctively understood exactly the kind of hierarchical social structure humans already had, which made it that much easier for Homo sapiens to begin domesticating wolf-dogs and using them in ways present-day hunters will recognize: a pack of canines can detect prey long before humans can, and they can chase that prey farther and longer than humans can, and, crucially, they can keep that prey at bay and stationary until humans can arrive with their superior numbers and projectile weapons. The wolf-dogs would have realized in short order that in exchange for their instinctive distrust of hominins the arrangement would garner them more reliable kills. And the humans would have seen that the wolf-dogs were helping to secure more meat than they’d provide if they themselves were simply slaughtered. And so the 35,000-year-old partnership between humans and dogs began – in multiple genocides.

It’s a word Shipman never uses, although she holds no illusions about the ominous timing of the whole thing. Modern humans appeared, spread through the Neanderthals’ range, eventually domesticated wolf-dogs, and shortly thereafter, the Neanderthals were gone. Good cautious scientific thinker that she is, Shipman makes no declarations, and she’s careful to stipulate that drastic climate change also played a key role: it was the “synergy” between the advent of modern humans and a sudden shift in climate that tipped the balance against the Neanderthals. She even occasionally goes so far as to allow for the absurd possibility – mentioned also elsewhere in the literature of Neanderthal extinction – that there were no hard feelings:

People today are often frightened of strangers; how much more threatening would meeting another hominin species be? Limited resources and food competition would only heighten the fear. Possibly there was no conscious awareness of competition between Neanderthals and modern humans, but equally possibly, there was. At any rate, Neanderthals went extinct after the arrival of modern humans and possibly not long after.

The ideas are unfailingly thought-provoking, but there’s a vein of contradiction running through a good deal of The Invaders, and it’s hard not to suspect it’s because the author is a member in good standing of Homo sapiens. The central contradiction is actually embodied in that Yellowstone example: the point isn’t the white settlers and the wolves – it’s the white settlers and the Indians. Where newly-introduced wolves are content merely to kill or drive off direct rivals for prey, Homo sapiens tends to be much more industrious when it comes to extirpation. There are wolves and coyotes in Yellowstone today. But all of Eurasia wasn’t big enough for Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

The modern human propensity for genocide is aptly illustrated in the case of mammoths. Remains of the animals have been found in connection with many Neanderthal sites, but it’s only with the advent of modern humans that the mammoth population as a whole begins to be affected. Paleontologists have discovered mammoth ‘megasites’ involving the remains of dozens of animals all in the same place – a disproportion, as Shipman notes, for which there was no precedent:

Modern humans disturbed the long-standing ecosystem with their arrival about 45,000 years BP, but starting about 32,000 years ago there was a second extraordinary change. From then until about 15,000 years ago, modern humans were killing and using mammoths in extraordinary numbers not seen in any Neanderthal sites.

Anyone even passingly familiar with the behavior of humans in the modern world – denuding entire ecosystems, lavishing waste and slaughter in all directions, moving one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of life on Earth – will have no trouble at all understanding the ugly truths behind mammoth ‘megasites.’ But science, as noted, is inherently cautious, even when, as in this case, that caution ends up looking a little silly:

The use of mammoth resources does not prove mass killings, but sites with large numbers of mammoths need to be explained. Why would mammoths start dying in large numbers only after modern humans arrived? S. V. Leshchinsky and colleagues have suggested that woolly mammoths were stressed by nutritional deficiencies because of climate change, but why such stresses might become acute after the arrival of modern humans is unclear.

Fierce wolf-dogs may have given Homo sapiens an evolutionary advantage

Fierce wolf-dogs may have given Homo sapiens an evolutionary advantage

Shipman warns against a too-easy, overly-dramatic reading of the evidence; indeed, one of the scientists she interviews laughs at the “Ernest Hemingway” notion that Homo sapiens was responsible for wiping out the mammoths (and the cave bears, and the saber-toothed tigers, and the lions, and the rhinos, etc.). She reminds her readers that virtually no evidence has turned up in the fossil record to indicate direct modern human-Neanderthal violence, and she sticks to her own hypothesis: that the amazing, logic-defying partnership of modern humans and wolves, combined with a sudden climate change even more severe than usual, drove the already-strained Neanderthal population in Eurasia over the brink and into extinction.

Many factors, an unprecedented inter-species cooperation, a quickly-changing environment, a robust new species out-competing a struggling old species. A very intriguing new take on an old question, this one featuring the basset hound currently snoring on your couch. A broad-based new hypothesis that most definitely doesn’t go in for any Ernest Hemingway notions about one miswired, genocidal species wiping out anything bigger than a jackrabbit within a thousand miles in all directions.

Perfectly reasonable, and it might even end up being true. Just don’t mention it to the passenger pigeon.

Steve Donoghue is a writer and reader living in Boston with his dogs. He’s recently reviewed books for The Washington Post, The National, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Historical Novel Review Online, and The Quarterly Conversation. He is the Managing Editor of Open Letters Monthly, and hosts one of its blogs, Stevereads.


  • Muggins says:

    When game grew scarce, Cro-Magnons probably hunted Neanderthals.

    • Jason says:

      With mates scarce, humans humped Neanderthals to extinction, not hunted them.
      The Neanderthal population was always small, and they were simply subsumed into the invaders. 4.5% of my DNA proves this, according to my 23andme results.

  • Steve Sailer says:

    Temple Grandin and Jerry Pournelle have each hypothesized that domesticating dogs allowed humans to offload some kinds of cognitive processing, such as most of our scent analysis capabilities, to our canine partners. Perhaps dogs allowed modern humans to evolve smaller brains that were more focused on language or other tasks, since we had dogs to track game for us by scent.

    • PengieP says:

      It’s of note that dog’s brains also are smaller and differ in various structures from that of their antecedent wolves. I like Dr. Grandin’s idea of off-loading brain functions to the symbiotic partner most able to take advantage of them for the benefit of the partnership. I think it is now nearly undeniable that Homo sapiens is the way it is because of the dog/human parnership. I doubt there is one single characteristic that resulted in the partnership, but a happy (for us) combination of factors that came together to produce us. However, I tend to think Neanderthals were assimilated rather than extirpated. At least I would prefer to think so!

  • Art says:

    I’m sure projectile weapons were a factor. I remember reading something to the effect that Neanderthals were not very good at throwing things, whereas modern humans had by this time developed the atlatl, which enabled them to launch nasty darts that would kill at long range.

  • Susan Balée says:

    I thought a French paleonanthropologist had found a cache of Neanderthal bones in the trash dump of a homo sapiens settlement and that those bones had cut marks on them just like the cut marks on the deer bones in the dump. To wit, the homo saps were eating the Neanderthals. I hope I didn’t dream this bit of research but actually read it. Can someone confirm?

    It is interesting to me that our species, the weedy species — as David Quammen rightly called us — managed to knock out so many others. Wherever we go, everyone else disappears. When we don’t have other species to knock out, we turn on each other. We’re like Round-Up. Round-Up with a conscience.

    • Tinderbox says:

      You may be thinking of “Secrets of the Dead: Caveman Cold Case”.

    • DJK says:

      Susan says “Wherever we go, everyone else disappears.” Right. . . . That’s why many states are now swarming with vastly more deer than were ever present before Europeans arrived.

      • Guy says:

        That rebound in numbers of deer in the eastern US is quite recent, as you surely know. When I was a kid growing up in rural MD 50-60 years ago, my brothers and I knew quite well what a white-tailed deer track was supposed to look like, but we saw none at all there. We did see them in Shenandoah National Park, which was closed to hunting, and we saw lots of deer there. SNP was established in the 1930s. Today when I go back to our old haunts in rural MD, where farming has disappeared and lots of farms have grown up to shrubs and small trees, the place is swarming with deer.

        DJK, you surely know that you are full of it.

  • Scrimmy says:

    All of that’s very interesting, but why besmirch ol’ Hemingway?

  • Jason M says:

    What an excellent article on what sounds like a fine new book! It’s odd, however, that the reviewer doesn’t mention the presence of Neanderthal genes within the European and Asian homo sapiens genomes, which suggests of course that we interbred with these fascinating creatures (though how we found them attractive defies comprehension; it must have been some sort of dominance-rape thing). The Neanderthal, that is, was at least in some measure subsumed into the human population rather than simply going extinct. To put it a bit too crassly, we domesticated the dog so that we could domesticate the Neanderthal into extinction.

  • “The central contradiction is actually embodied in that Yellowstone example: the point isn’t the white settlers and the wolves – it’s the white settlers and the Indians. Where newly-introduced wolves are content merely to kill or drive off direct rivals for prey, Homo sapiens tends to be much more industrious when it comes to extirpation.”

    You didn’t just imply a subtle distinction between Homo Sapiens and the Indians, did you? Or: maybe it’s a specific subdivision, within the umbrella category of Homo Sapiens, this article’s apparent thesis indicts.

    • Susan Balée says:

      Interestingly, that extirpation began intertribally. I used to teach the journals of Lewis and Clark, and they describe very clearly the Sioux taking over the West and dominating/decimating other tribes. They got guns from French traders and used them to cow and control their neighbors.

      As it happens, the only reason Lewis & Clark made it to the Pacific Ocean as opposed to dying in a mountain pass, is owed to the fact that Sacajawea was kidnapped as a child by the Sioux and sold to a French trader on the coast. After all those years, she remembered the route when it was a life-or-death matter to do so.

      Sacajawea’s own people were peaceful and they’d given up their horses and retreated to the mountains to avoid the aggressive Sioux. Ergo, Sioux were to her tribe as homo saps were to Neanderthals (and any other hominins who deign to show up; I’m betting there are others whose fossils simply haven’t yet been uncovered). Aggressive natures seem to win out over peaceful ones every time.

  • David Arnold says:

    I am surprised that no mention has been made of the book “Them and Us-The Neanderthal Predator Theory” by Danny Vendramini, an Australian, writer and director, who became interested in what creaated universal themes across many religions and cultures in art, literature, drama, and life. His book has been largely ignored or disparaged by experts as it challenges many previous theories and presumptions about Neanderthals. Vendramini’s thesis is supported with vast research from diverse and respected sources and deals more thoroughly the Neanderthal/Sapiens conflict and its results. His basic thesis is that Neanderthals were apex nocturnal predators who during the ice age of the time moved into the Levant and forced accelerated changes in the culture and physiology of hominids living there. The co-evolution of dogs and humans is only a small part of the story. For many decades I been interested in the topic of Neanderthals. Although I am not an anthropologist, paleontologist or geneticist by profession, I think Vendramini should be read by all who are interested in the human condition and our Neanderthal connections.

  • pdq says:

    One good thing about this theory: it is highly falsifiable. Find one or two wolf/dog femurs at a Neanderthal site and – poof!

  • Mike F says:

    is this donahue fellow the attorney for the neanderthals?
    I mean really, what dog has he in that race?
    Who cares if HS killed off the Neanderthals?
    to begin with, we can only speculate, and as in all such speculation, the answer is probably all of the above.
    HS obviously have a great capacity for violence- endless really when you turn on the violence tap.
    BUT we also have an amazing capacity for civilized behaviour and intellectual exploration and co-operation.
    We are both hero and villain.
    Although mr. Donahue seems to be fixated on the violence.
    cos he is a self hating humanoid.
    Well here’s another possibility; HS at that point were actually already very civilized but we were living under such constant threat from beast and neanderthal that we had no choice but to use our obvious advantage ( intelligence) to defend ourselves against all comers and eventually the threats all extinguished themselves from all of the threats to themselves ; starvation, climate change ( what a modern thing to speculate about) us, etc.
    You have to assume alot of nuance if you are going to be fair in your speculations about pre history. the most intelligent person amongst us today is presumably no smarter than the most intelligent person in pre history. but that doesn’t mean everyone was smart- there may have only been about 5% who had any real cognitive power. But they are the ones who rule, and who yes, employ violence, but who employ violence in useful ways.
    as to the book, well using dogs was a benefit, but was it the only one? of course not; you also have to take into account control of fire, use of weapons, primitive agriculture, teamwork and co-operation, understanding of the seasons, knowing how to build shelters and use of animal skins to keep out the cold. These thing s all work in concert- I don’t see why theorists need to be so reductive.

    • Open Letters Monthly says:

      It’s printed right there at the top of the review: Donoghue, not Donahue. If you say “Bah! A petty detail! What difference does it make?” you seriously undercut your credibility when you start dickering about other details.

      But to answer some of your rhetorical questions just the same: I, Steve Donoghue, care that HS killed off the Neanderthals, for one simple reason: the killing hasn’t stopped. What HS did to the megafauna of the Pleistocene HS is currently doing to the megafauna of the present day, with a speed and comprehensiveness that would put a killer asteroid to shame. In our own lifetime – mine as well as yours – we will see a world in which a) there are no rainforests, b) there is no ocean life, and c) there is no terrestrial wildlife apart from vast batteries of penned chattel raised and slaughtered to become food. If such a bleak and horrifying world is the ultimate end-product of the HS rise to dominance 40,000 years ago, then I care very much how it all started.

      • SirHuddlestonFuddleston says:

        Indeed. We are the virus. I am a human, and there are many fellow humans which I love, and many human accomplishments of which I am proud, but that is all overwhelmed by what a tragedy our species has been for the rest of all creation. Why should that matter, you say? It’s like asking why you care if you raised a kid who’s a murderous sociopath — because it’s just wrong, that’s why.

        Consider the end of “A Canticle for Leibowitz”: as the monks put the children aboard the spaceship to leave the now glowing earth for the last time, a monk removes his sandals and carefully knocks the dust from them, before turning his back on the people that would not hear the message.

        I’m a lapsed Catholic and an atheist, but that is beautifully said.

      • t_paine says:

        All so dreadfully frightening.

        Do you have a plan to stop this process? It will require power to do that. If you have only this pose of self-righteous weakness, you can only beg. Might makes right, right? (I ask because you are my go-to guy on right and wrong stuff). But I know this much: Might makes. Power creates. All that is done is done from a position of power. I seek the how of it, not the should or ought. HS is just plain evil? Not much to go on.

        You should write a book. You could be the Zinn of Natural History.

      • Anonymous says:

        Agree, agree. We are a lamentable species and yet…here *we* are.

    • t_paine says:

      Nice work, Mike F. This Donohue guy is touchy, yes?

  • Gabriel says:

    could the interbreeding and contact have caused the Homo Sapiens to spread a deadly disease to the Neanderthals, who did not have resistance? This is plausible because the Homo Sapiens had arrived from a different environment and had apparently survived entry into the new (Eurasian)environment. But the Neanderthals may have only had resistance to diseases in their own surroundings.

  • t_paine says:

    Steve Donoghue,
    You would pose as an evolutionary moralist? You know the rights and wrongs of the biological record (which is the kind of thing my grad students feel empowered to proclaim). Bad species. So we will set up the Neanderthal as our indigenous-people-of-the-month and lament their demise.

    It’s ok, SD. I can’t find an historian who does not see himself as a moralist, or anyone in the philosophy dept who is not a self-proclaimed moral judge. They lament the slaughter but do not care to understand. If they have alternative scenarios at all, say, for the interaction between native American and European cultures, they drift off into utopian dreams when they offer them.

    It is about power and weakness, evolutionary, reproductive, political, technological, cultural. I want to understand. Leave your cheesy right and wrong lessons to the preacher.

    • Open Letters Monthly says:

      My main point (the one you’re making so well for me by loudly relegating “cheesy right and wrong lessons” to Sunday school preachers so that the real world is free to get on with power and weakness) had nothing to do with morality. If you have 100 kids in a schoolyard, all running around, laughing, and jostling each other, and one of those kids sets out a systematic plan of first stealing all the other kids’ lunches, the driving all the other kids out of the schoolyard, then tracking all the other kids to their homes – no matter how far away – and murdering both them and their entire families, any impartial observer would call that kid DEFECTIVE. We’d say that kid’s biological chemistry was sequenced wrong, and we’d have words for it. We know from the fossil record that Neanderthal lived for hundreds of thousands of years in a complex living environment – a crowded schoolyard – without trying to ERADICATE that environment. We know the same thing for every other species of relatively modern human … except Homo sapiens. The implication I draw from this is simple, and it doesn’t involve utopian dreams: along with the general evolutionary ‘package’ that gave Homo sapiens greater language ability and sharper cognition, there was also a species DEFECT, which we’ve seen in operation for the last 200,000 years. Reading a book about the first flourishing of this defect was fascinating, although in my opinion if wolf-dogs hadn’t been available, early Homo sapiens would have used some other animal, even killer canaries.

      • t_paine says:

        Do you have an alternative scenario, where the Indians get to keep Manhattan? In which the Neanderthal survive? Only in those dreams I mentioned before. What you call a DEFECT (all caps) is a complex set of characteristics that might well be called adaptive assets, unless you have a preferred outcome in mind, which you do. You would like a certain reality to be expressed, and if it’s not you are troubled. That is only empty opinion and has no value beyond making you feel better. Like the climate change folks, you like THIS environment and you would freeze evolution in all its forms, biological, geological, cosmological, because you like it now, and you lament the loss of the mastodon and the condor. You have no patience with natural history. You blame and condemn.

        The Neanderthal and the American Indian would have wished to resist to greater effect. They could not. The plains Indians fought hard, learned to shoot the rifles they won in battle. But they did not possess those stable institutions of modern European society (mostly rule of law) which could support the manufacture of those guns, support the creation of wealth (and thus, large populations), or do the required science. They could not win.

        They were slavers and oppressors. Their only claim to the moral high ground is that they were weaker, right?

      • Gail Zawacki says:

        It was a great pleasure to read this review as it elucidates many thoughts I have had in recent years contemplating human behavior – specifically our role in past extinctions, and what that behavior implies for the current dieoff. I look forward to reading the book and following links in the comments.

        I do wonder if comparing the entire species to a miscreant schoolchild is appropriate, unless you mean the entire species is defective. This begs the question – what are we “meant” to be, and what if there is no intention in evolution?

        In such a case we are not defective, we are highly successful until such time as we have consumed everything but even then, perhaps we will have simply accomplished the most we possibly can?

        I have linked to your article on my blog here: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2015/09/an-ill-wind.html

  • Patrick says:

    It is said that Neanderthals were a separate species but presumptions of
    interbreeding persist when by definition a species is defined by the inability to
    do so. Ne c’est pas?

  • Quentin Poulsen says:

    It’s a fascinating theory though certainly not a new one. I remember reading about this 25 or 30 years ago when anthropology was one of my major interests. More recently I read an article suggesting humans had simply absorbed the Neanderthals, inter-breeding them out of existence as they migrated into Eurasia. According to that article all humans except Africans (Negro & Bushman) have approximately 5% Neanderthal DNA.

  • David Paxton says:

    Steve, sorry to arrive so late. Thank you for a great book review. I shall obtain pat Shipman’s The Invaders as soon as I can. You probably don’t know that since 1994 I have argued publicly that Homo sapiens evolved the anatomy to enunciate words because they (we) co-evolved with a small southern wolf in caves. The BBC Channel 4 made a documentary in 1998, The Secret Life of the Dog. Caves are crucial niches because H. sapiens infants take so long to mature and, because we carried food home, the caves became rich niches for other animals who could tolerate human presence. Most of that evolutionary process occurred eastwards from Africa in what might be called littoral southern Asia, resulting in the spread of Aborigines to the east who were able to navigate bamboo raft to, and colonise, Australia AT LEAST 60,000 years ago. Spread northwards into Eurasia was at first blocked by the Neanderthal in the Levant. The ability to speak words (which convey extraordinary complex information and are the equivalent of the atomic bomb in ecological terms)gave H. sapiens enormous power and eventually the capacity to push the Neanderthal aside and enter Europe as Cro Magnon Man. Probably the same thing happened to the east in relation to the Denisovians. I wrote Why It’s OK to Talk to Your Dog in 2011 (Amazon). Since then I have extended the idea that H. sapiens caves were novel ecological niches for the cat as well, and hence we learned to store food, and were able to escape, to some extent, the tyranny of seasons, and so modify the expression of oestrus, leading to greater cave harmony = even greater evolutionary success. I presented this idea at U of Sydney in 2013. However my idea has been overlooked by the mainstream until the publication in 2014 of the Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, whose editor Greg Garrard, acknowledged my Composite Conversationalist hypothesis.

    I have admired Pat Shipman’s work for a long time, especially her co-authorships with Alan Walker and Erik Trinkhaus.

  • Plamen Nikitov says:

    Well written book (The Invaders)! I have one proposal only — stop using the expression “Neanderthals extinction” and replace it with “Neanderthal extermination”.

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