Friday, September 18, 2009
Neanderthals - the hairy carnivore that ate our ancestors
NEANDERTHAL man was not the hirsute simpleton history books have been portraying, an independent Sydney scholar believes. Neanderthal man was a vicious rapist and cannibal – and ugly too.
After years of research in which he scrutinised 800 references, Danny Vendramini has concluded Neanderthals were "apex predators" and were "aggressive, powerful and terrifying carnivores". For more than 50,000 years they ruled the food chain. Much of their diet consisted of our ancestors. "Their daily diet was nearly 2kg of meat – and it included human meat," Mr Vendramini said.
The former filmmaker has written Them and Us: How Neanderthal predation created modern humans (Kardoorair Press, $39.95), wherein he promulgates his findings of the way in which "Neanderthal predation" almost wiped out the early human populations of the Mediterranean levant.
Self-taught Mr Vendramini said he was aware that his book could offend some scientists. "Scientists have taken the view that they were more human-like but I think that is anthropomorphic thinking which sees them as like ourselves and disregards the evidence that they were cannibals," he said. Bone relics at about eight European sites showed neatly-dissected human bones, cast away among the bones of other fare, he said.
The average Eurasian Neanderthal was about 25 per cent heavier than a human with lots of muscle, barrel chests, "arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger and legs like telegraph posts". They were about six-times stronger than modern humans.
"They were primates and they would have looked like primates," Mr Vendramini said. Adapting in ice-age Europe, they required a high-protein diet. Isotope analysis of Neanderthal bone collagen indicated a diet of 97 per cent meat.
Mr Vendramini said he had to speculate on many of the interactions described in the book as there was no evidence of emotion or psychology. There was evidence, however, of weapons in the form of flint-tipped spears and hunting in packs.
And, they were responsible for reducing the humanoid population to as few as 50 in the Mediterranean levant region. Cro-Magnon man fought back, killing and also eating Neanderthals and migrating across the world in what Mr Vendramini called "a 20,000km blitzkrieg," and "the first instance of evolution by genocide". He speculated the traumas of those distant human experiences at the hands of Eurasian Neanderthals underpinned some of the ways in which modern humans have evolved.
SA Museum palaeontologist Ben McHenry described the book as "a thought provoking outside-the-square theory which may or may not ruffle the feathers of the scientific establishment".
Flinders School of Biological Sciences' Dr Gavin Prideaux said it was: "A fascinating and thought-provoking idea; the perfect basis for an epic Hollywood blockbuster."
One biologist is very scathing about the theory.