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Did Female Derring-Do Contribute To The Neanderthals' Demise?
November 16, 2007 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Stone Age Feminism? Among Neanderthals, hunting big beasts was women's work as well as men's, so it's a safe bet that female hunters got stomped, gored, and worse with appalling frequency. And a high casualty rate among fertile women - the vital "reproductive core" of a tiny population - could well have meant demographic disaster for a species already struggling to survive among monster bears, yellow-fanged hyenas, and cunning Homo sapien newcomers. Via.
posted by amyms (74 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I bet there were even queens of the stone age.
posted by The World Famous at 6:35 PM on November 16, 2007 [7 favorites]


This theory would seem to be very complementary to the one linked.
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:45 PM on November 16, 2007


And a high casualty rate among fertile women - the vital "reproductive core" of a tiny population - could well have meant demographic disaster for a species already struggling to survive among monster bears, yellow-fanged hyenas, and cunning Homo sapien newcomers

The shortage of women drove some of them to Homossapiensexuality.

I'm sorry, too
posted by jonmc at 6:51 PM on November 16, 2007


Joking aside, the subject of cavemen and cavewomen is one I just find extraordinarily fascinating.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:02 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, thanks.
posted by Devils Slide at 7:03 PM on November 16, 2007


Wow. I thought I saw, "...hunting big breasts was women's work..."
And I was like, of course.

Cool article though.
posted by hojoki at 7:20 PM on November 16, 2007


I don't see any actual evidence cited in there for the idea that Neanderthal women helped with hunting. At least based on that article, it's just baseless speculation.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:21 PM on November 16, 2007


Monster bear (claws) , yellow teeth (fangs).

Homo's cunning knife.

Also, politics. Shit, start over.
posted by Mblue at 7:21 PM on November 16, 2007


hojoki, that would make for one weird episode of Wild Kingdom...

"Here we see the wild breast as it majestically jiggles along the pampas...'
posted by jonmc at 7:25 PM on November 16, 2007


It's well known that for every caveman leader, there were three female sidekicks.
posted by homunculus at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


...so it's a safe bet that female hunters got stomped, gored, and worse with appalling frequency.

Do female lions get stomped, gored and worse with appalling frequency?

This theory sounds like it wants to have it both ways. Women were strong, so they hunted with the men, which killed them off because women were weak.
posted by DU at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


Wow. I thought I saw, "...hunting big breasts was women's work..."

"Here we see the wild breast as it majestically jiggles along the pampas...'


And you silly boys wonder why some of my Mefite sisters call this a "boyzone"... Some of you have an undenial talent for making almost any FPP be about boobies. :P
posted by amyms at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


amyms, hojoki is a woman, and come on...I'd be superhuman if I resisted in this case.

(and a man can be enlightened and non-sexist and liberated and all that crap...and still reallly really really love boobies)
posted by jonmc at 7:31 PM on November 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


...the subject of cavemen and cavewomen is one I just find extraordinarily fascinating.

I find cavebabies to be even more fascinating. No, seriously. Like, did they just carry them around and let them poop on them? Or did they fashion crude diapers a la Pebbles and Bam-Bam? If you are gathering berries and vines, how far into the forest is it safe to let a neandertoddler wander? And so forth.
posted by DU at 7:32 PM on November 16, 2007


"It's a safe bet"
Well yes, since there is no way to prove or disprove your stupid-ass thesis, it is safe--you can't lose if there's no answer to find.

"could well have meant"
The fact that there are clouds in the prehistoric sky could well have meant they were farted from God's holy bottom. You can't prove that that is wrong, either.

Is there a science collary to "truthiness"? Like "proofiness" instead of proof or "science-y" instead of science? Cause that's where this needs to go.
posted by emjaybee at 7:32 PM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


DU said: This theory sounds like it wants to have it both ways. Women were strong, so they hunted with the men, which killed them off because women were weak.

I don't think they're saying that the women were killed because they were weak. I think they are saying that the women were strong enough to hunt with the men and some of them got killed, just like the men did. But since the women hunters were also the child-bearers, their deaths had a greater impact on the ultimate survival of the species.
posted by amyms at 7:32 PM on November 16, 2007


jonmc said: amyms, hojoki is a woman, and come on...I'd be superhuman if I resisted in this case.

(and a man can be enlightened and non-sexist and liberated and all that crap...and still reallly really really love boobies)


Oops, sorry hojoki... And, jonmc, point taken. I was just being light-hearted.
posted by amyms at 7:34 PM on November 16, 2007


I was wondering if this would show up on the blue, since I saw it a few days ago, along with the suggestion (I don't remember where) that this was actually an ANTI-feminist theory, put out by the whole pervasive right-wing conspiracy, since it implies that the reason the Neanderthals didn't survive were that their women didn't "know their place", as it were.

Hmm.
posted by yhbc at 7:35 PM on November 16, 2007


...their deaths had a greater impact on the ultimate survival of the species.

Another problem with this theory is: In a world where female hunters have a N% chance of being killed, won't female non-hunters('s genes) do M*N% better (where M is a weighting factor for how important women are relative to men)? So wouldn't they evolve away from this behavior?
posted by DU at 7:36 PM on November 16, 2007


the reason the Neanderthals didn't survive

I thought they evolved in to us.

(IANAArchaelogist)
posted by jonmc at 7:38 PM on November 16, 2007


No problem, amyms. I must admit that inside this grown woman is an immature woman who, like jonmc, really loves boobies.
posted by hojoki at 7:38 PM on November 16, 2007


jon - nope. We're all descended from Cro-magnon man, who took over the Neanderthal's European territory and either wiped them out or moved in after they all died out, depending on whose theory is correct. The Neanderthals are generally accepted to be an evolutionary dead link.
posted by yhbc at 7:42 PM on November 16, 2007


Wow, I learned something.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
posted by jonmc at 7:43 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


man I'm so confused.
posted by stbalbach at 7:45 PM on November 16, 2007


It was so obvious that this topic was going to generate an abundance of inadequately-evolved humor, and I was sorely tempted to contribute to it.

But you see, I had the (unpleasant) experience of writing a review of ABC's "Cavemen" sitcom (somewhere in here), and that show started out with 7 Producer/Writers, none of them women, until the fifth episode, titled "The Cavewoman". What does this have to do with anything? I HAD TO WATCH THE ORIGINAL PILOT FOR THIS DISASTER AND I CAN'T GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD, OK? Just please don't mention Cavemen in my presence for another couple months, please...
posted by wendell at 7:46 PM on November 16, 2007


'neandertoddler' is a great word. although 'Ur-Brat' would be even better.
posted by jonmc at 7:48 PM on November 16, 2007


At least based on that article, it's just baseless speculation.

well, based on a kneejerk hatred of feminism... why do we allow our fragile reproductive core to drive? it's fucking dangerous out there: all those wombs should be safe at home picking herbs and cooking and popping out big-headed genocidal babies...

why am I not drunk?
posted by geos at 7:48 PM on November 16, 2007


yhbc said: ...the suggestion (I don't remember where) that this was actually an ANTI-feminist theory, put out by the whole pervasive right-wing conspiracy, since it implies that the reason the Neanderthals didn't survive were that their women didn't "know their place", as it were.

Yeesh, I hope that's not the impetus for the article *grimaces*... I thought the research was borne out of genuine curiosity about the Neanderthals (a subject I find very fascinating as well). Besides, being a woman who bears children is not about "knowing one's place," it's just a biological fact.
posted by amyms at 7:48 PM on November 16, 2007


Wow. I thought I saw, "...hunting big breasts was women's work..."

Please subscribe me to whatever sexist newsletter would cover the disorder, because I saw the same thing too and it took three careful reads of your comment to convince myself that I had misread.
posted by rollbiz at 7:54 PM on November 16, 2007


yhbc writes "I was wondering if this would show up on the blue, since I saw it a few days ago, along with the suggestion (I don't remember where) that this was actually an ANTI-feminist theory, put out by the whole pervasive right-wing conspiracy, since it implies that the reason the Neanderthals didn't survive were that their women didn't 'know their place', as it were."

I had thought, upon reading the article, that the findings could be (and would be) twisted that way. And the problem will be, even if this theory is one day disproven, it will persist as a talking point.

Someone should be researching methods of driving political talking points to extinction.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:55 PM on November 16, 2007


Someone should be researching methods of driving political talking points to extinction.

I'm setting up a think tank and PAC to support this idea.
posted by ryoshu at 8:36 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


...so it's a safe bet that female hunters got stomped, gored, and worse with appalling frequency.

But then, except for sex, most things are worse with appalling frequency.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:05 PM on November 16, 2007


I'm still not buying this whole "Neanderthals went extinct" conspiracy.

Otherwise, how to explain George Bush?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:13 PM on November 16, 2007



Metafilter: monster bears, yellow-fanged hyenas, and cunning Homo sapien newcomers.

Metafilter: so very, very sorry.
Metafilter: just baseless speculation.
Metafilter: majestically jiggles along the pampas.
Metafilter: about boobies.
Metafilter: liberated and all that crap.
Metafilter: farted from God's holy bottom.
Metafilter: the ultimate survival of the species.
Metafilter: the reason the Neanderthals didn't survive.
Metafilter:an evolutionary dead link.
Metafilter: an abundance of inadequately-evolved humor.
Metafilter: popping out big-headed genocidal babies.
Metafilter: worse with appalling frequency.
posted by Sailormom at 9:19 PM on November 16, 2007


[a few HURF DURF comments flagged and removed, there are many fine places in MetaTalk to drag your testicles through the underbrush if that's your preference.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:22 PM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


Love boobies all you like, but ask before you grab....and I DON"T mean yowling this at someone unknown.
posted by brujita at 9:31 PM on November 16, 2007


I don't see any actual evidence cited in there for the idea that Neanderthal women helped with hunting. At least based on that article, it's just baseless speculation.

You're right. But I read an article a few years ago about how paleoanthropoligists study the skeletal remains of Neanderthals, which routinely exhibit evidence of major fractures and injuries only common in rodeo participants in this day and age. So they surmised that many or perhaps even most Neanderthals were injured in the course of hunting large game. I'm assuming the current data was reached at through similar evidence i.e. similar injuries found in female Neanderthal skeletal remains. Of course, I'm just speculating.
posted by Devils Slide at 9:55 PM on November 16, 2007


nubs writes I had thought, upon reading the article, that the findings could be (and would be) twisted that way. And the problem will be, even if this theory is one day disproven, it will persist as a talking point.

The title of this FPP is alluding to the relevant line in the article.

It's the other way around - insisting that human evolution could not possibly have benefited from practices incompatible with feminism is the reaction that would constitute twisting the findings.

The lesson of Galileo's persecution isn't simply that intolerance is bad, it's also that subjugating scientific theory to politics makes for bad science - indeed pointless science.
posted by XMLicious at 9:59 PM on November 16, 2007


XMLicious writes "The lesson of Galileo's persecution isn't simply that intolerance is bad, it's also that subjugating scientific theory to politics makes for bad science - indeed pointless science."

You got your POLITICS in my SCIENCE! You got your SCIENCE in my POLITICS!

It's a bad tasting treat, whichever way we do it.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:36 PM on November 16, 2007


To be clear, what I'm trying to say is that science done to advance a political agenda isn't good; and that new scientific research is often twisted/mis-interpreted/mis-represented by politicians to suit their agenda.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:51 PM on November 16, 2007


Wasn't there a recent claim that gingers might all be Neanderthal descendents? If so I am both inordinately proud of my my egalitarian forebears, and have an explanation for my freakishly large forehead.
posted by Abiezer at 11:39 PM on November 16, 2007


why am I not drunk?
posted by geos at 7:48 PM on November 16

That's okay; I am. Got your back
posted by landis at 11:55 PM on November 16, 2007


From looking at the abstract of the paper, this theory doesn't seem too unreasonable when you strip out the journalistic nonsense.

With both chimpanzees and modern human hunter-gatherer societies, hunting is overwhelmingly a male activity, while females generally stick to gathering.

We know that Neanderthal skeletons, both male and female, show a lot of healed injuries. We know they hunted a lot from analysing the marks on animal bones around their campsites: they were hit by stone tools first, (rather than predator teeth first then stone tools as with scavengers). We have no arrowheads or signs of projectile weapons.

Therefore, it's pretty reasonable to suppose that males and females hunted, at close quarters, and this was a dangerous activity.

It could well be than modern humans' tendency to allow only males to hunt provided them with an advantage over the Neanderthals.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:39 AM on November 17, 2007


From a demographics point of view, it's better if the men die in a small group. One fertile male neanderthal and 10 fertile female neaderthals gives you up to 10 babies. 10 men and 1 woman gives you one baby in the same timeframe. (ignoring twins and personal choices in this example, and the problems with such a small gene pool). Demographically, a small society under duress where the men do the bulk of the dying and the women stay alive to bear children will out-breed those that don't, theoretically.

Whether that's a *good* thing is a different argument.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:16 AM on November 17, 2007


From a demographics point of view, it's better if the men die in a small group. One fertile male neanderthal and 10 fertile female neaderthals gives you up to 10 babies. 10 men and 1 woman gives you one baby in the same timeframe. (ignoring twins and personal choices in this example, and the problems with such a small gene pool). Demographically, a small society under duress where the men do the bulk of the dying and the women stay alive to bear children will out-breed those that don't, theoretically.


My problem with the speculation was with this part. It is a huge assumption based on the view that the men derive no advantages from hunting and that it is all just altruistic offspring & mate feeding risk for them. What if neandermen where not big sharers and women & children would just get subsistence rations.

The problem with arguing that the lack of division is the cause for extinction is that you also have to explain how the behaviour evolved in the first place and what changed to turn adapted behaviour into maladaptive behaviour.

As usual I am stunned by how different the newspaper article is from the actual journal article.
posted by srboisvert at 1:41 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


DU Either I don't understand your objections, or you are just grasping at straws here.

This theory sounds like it wants to have it both ways. Women were strong, so they hunted with the men, which killed them off because women were weak.

Two reasons why this strikes me as a silly argument.

1.) I don't think the paper is trying to say this at all. It is quite clear that hunting was a dangerous activity for any participant, this is regardless of gender. And obviously any individual, of either gender, staying home is going to be much safer. So assuming it is equally dangerous for all hunters, women still have more to lose (well, the community has more to lose if women die frequently). Because the fact is women are much more reproductively valuable. Lets say we have a community with 100 men, and 100 women in prime reproductive condition. And lets say each woman would hypothetically produce one child in a given year.

If nobody died in that year we would see a max of 100 children being born.

If 50 of the men died we would still have a hypothetical max of 100 children being born.

if 99 of the men died we would still have a hypothetical max of 100 children being born (and one hypothetically sore man).

If 50 of the women died we would have a hypotetical max of 50 children being born.

if 99 of the women died we would have a hypotetical max of 1 child being born.

Obviously even if men and women died exactly as often, losing women is far more devastating to a population, since a single man can father thousands of children (see Genghis Kahn who fathered so many kids that currently about .5% of the word population has him as a great-great-great...grand pappy)

2.) Even if this report was trying to say this (which it's not) it still isn't logically incoherent. For example imagine the following scenario (using 100% made up numbers just to illustrate why it is not inherently contradictory, this does not reflect the reality of the situation in any way). Let's say there was a hypothetical community of Neanderthals in which some members would engage in hunting activities. Lets say the community could be divided into four rough groups:

a.) The biggest and strongest hunters. These folks went out to hunt, were comparatively successful, and because of their great strength and size had a flat 5% chance of dying in a hunt each year.

b.) The average size and strength hunters. These folks went out to hunt, were moderately successful, but had a flat 15% chance of dying in a hunt each year.

c.) The smallest hunters. These folks were still went out to hunt and could provide valuable additional manpower, but their disadvantages in strength and size meant that had a 30% chance of dying in a year.

d.) Those deemed unfit to hunt, these folks simply stayed home and had a 0% chance of dying in a hunt.

In this scenario, let's say each gender had the following breakdown.

Males: A-15% B-45% C-25% D-15%
Females: A-2% B-18% C-40% D-40%

Here we would have a scenario where "Women were strong, so they hunted with the men" and at the same time they hunted terrible beasts "which killed them off because women were weak". Again, I'm not saying these numbers are valid, I'm certainly not saying this scenario represents what the authors of this study are trying to say, the only point is that yes, you very well *could* hypothetically have it both ways, despite what you seem to imply.

As for this: In a world where female hunters have a N% chance of being killed, won't female non-hunters('s genes) do M*N% better (where M is a weighting factor for how important women are relative to men)? So wouldn't they evolve away from this behavior?

From the phrasing of your comment you seem to be radically overestimating the nimbleness of evolution. The vast, vast, vast majority of species go extinct. Most are unable to adapt quick enough to face whatever challenges lie before them when things start to go wrong.

But in a sense, this is exactly what appears to have happened, only you have the timescale and species wrong. Once upon a time Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals had a shared ancestor. That species split into two branches, one half would go out on it's own, slowly adapt to unique environments and eventually form into communities where the women went out to hunt with the men (Neanderthals). The other branch go out on its own, yadda yadda, and would form into communities where the women did not (Homo Sapiens).

As we can see the Neanderthals have died out. On the other hand Homo Sapiens have thrived. Thus evolution successfully selected for this behavior, as you predicted (along with any number of other behaviors that contributed to our survival over our neighbor Neanderthals).
posted by Jezztek at 1:59 AM on November 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


srboisvert:
The problem with arguing that the lack of division is the cause for extinction is that you also have to explain how the behaviour evolved in the first place and what changed to turn adapted behaviour into maladaptive behaviour.

Well, the abstract said this:
The complementary economic roles for men and women typical of ethnographically documented hunter-gatherers did not appear in Eurasia until the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. The rich archaeological record of Middle Paleolithic cultures in Eurasia suggests that earlier hominins pursued more narrowly focused economies, with women's activities more closely aligned with those of men with respect to schedule and ranging patterns than in recent forager systems.
So, possibly something happened in the Upper Paleolithic to make dividing roles more advantageous, which Sapiens adapted to and the Neanderthals did not.

Can't really tell how plausible it is without seeing the actual text of the paper though.

I don't think this theory should really threaten anyone. Even if differing gender roles were somehow advantageous to Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, that doesn't mean they're a good thing today.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:06 AM on November 17, 2007


yhbc, I don't think the debate on interbreeding is quite that simple:

Detecting ancient admixture in humans:
A debate of long-standing interest in human evolution centers around whether archaic human populations (such as the Neanderthals) have contributed to the modern gene pool...There are not enough data available at the present to support either the "single origin" or the "multiregional" model of modern human evolution. However, this information should be available in a few years.
Archaic admixture in the human genome:
Recent work suggests that Neanderthals and an as yet unidentified archaic African population contributed to at least 5% of the modern European and West African gene pools, respectively. Extensive sequencing of Neanderthal and other archaic human nuclear DNA has the potential to answer this question definitively within the next few years.

European early modern humans and the fate of the Neandertals:
The ubiquitous and variable presence of these morphological features in the European earlier modern human samples can only be parsimoniously explained as a product of modest levels of assimilation of Neandertals into early modern human populations as the latter dispersed across Europe. This interpretation is in agreement with current analyses of recent and past human molecular data.
There are plenty of other recent papers arguing the opposite as well as papers claiming the methodology is broken or gene samples have been contaminated, etc. It's still too early to definitely say if there was or wasn't interbreeding.

Or as a recent high school world history textbook put it: "Modern humans and Neandertals may or may not have intermarried."
posted by ahughey at 3:20 AM on November 17, 2007


Even if differing gender roles were somehow advantageous to Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, that doesn't mean they're a good thing today.

TheophileEscargot for the win!

And that ancient advantage for the differing gender roles allowed for the building of human civilizations based on those gender roles, so that even as the need for them against outside forces faded away, they remained hard-coded in human-created societal structures. We have effectively created our own "biological imperatives", not necessarily needed for survival in the World, but rather for survival in human society. And that's why it's so damn hard to change things, even over multiple generations.

And yet, if the Neanderthals had not become extinct, their 'disadvantageous behavior' might have, at some later stage of human development, become an advantage, allowing them to kick our Sapiens asses!
posted by wendell at 3:52 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Modern humans and Neandertals may or may not have intermarried."

But if they had, the men who married Neandertal women would have been called 'hen-pecked' or 'pussy-whipped' by their macho human friends...
posted by wendell at 3:56 AM on November 17, 2007


Devils Slide: ... how paleoanthropoligists study the skeletal remains of Neanderthals, which routinely exhibit evidence of major fractures and injuries only common in rodeo participants in this day and age.

Couldn't the simplest answer be the correct one?

Rodeo killed the Neanderthal.
posted by Free word order! at 4:18 AM on November 17, 2007 [4 favorites]


XMLicious One problem, re: mixing politics and science, is the growing field of Evolutionary Psychology (EvoPsych), which is largely rooted in a denial of TheophileEscargot's point that just because X behavior was a good idea a long time ago doesn't mean its a good idea today.

There may be decent, non-jackass, EvoPsych types out there. I hope there are. But I have never read anything by an EvoPsych type that doesn't go (basically):

1) Here is X condition/hypothetical behavior/etc that either currently exists or seems to have existed at one point or another.

2) I will make up a "Just So Story" explanation to explain X involving women either being inferior to men, or needing to subjugate themselves to men.

3) My story shows that modern feminism is foolish and dangerous, and that women should just accept their biological role in life and get back into the kitchen.

Due to the blatient politicization, along with the blatient idiocy, of the EvoPsych types, its hardly surprising that this study, and its obvious use by modern right wing thugs, will be seen by many people aware of the current infestation of misognyst twits in anthropology, as yet another EvoPsych screed about why women need to get back into the kitchen. Which seems potentially unfortunate, as the actual study (unlike the crap reporting) seems, at first glance, to be a real study and not yet another EvoPsych screed.
posted by sotonohito at 4:42 AM on November 17, 2007


Everyone looking at this is assuming that unchecked births and population growth is advantageous. Seems to me that giving limited resources and the fact that any given population will grow exponentially, even with a high infant mortality rate, removing some women from the gene pool would be a good thing to keep the population somewhat stable. Think about it-- any Neanderthal female would theoretically become fertile around age 12-14, and normally live another 20 or so years? That's a whole lot of potential births to overpopulate the group and strain their resources. Without knowing the real structure of Neanderthal society, it's not crazy to posit that perhaps the women who hunted had already birthed a few children, even.

Granted perhaps it was the fact that Neanderthal groups did limit births rather than otherwise that made their populations more vulnerable to extinction. But regardless, it doesn't make sense that we assume that unchecked population growth is always an evolutionary boon.
posted by miss tea at 4:51 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


A good point miss tea -- most species reach their population equilibrium and then maintain population in continual balance, while others achieve the balance over a slightly longer time-frame through a feast/famine (population boom/die-off) pattern.

Homo sapiens may have had the feast/famine trait package, but got so smart that they were able to reduce the famine periods to much shorter than the feast period: thus, explosive population growth.
posted by MattD at 5:11 AM on November 17, 2007


Let it be called 'a special science bias'.

a) Whatever science you're involved, it is complex, explanatory and interesting -- at least more complex than it seems for novices. You know if because you know your field.

b) For cursory glance into other sciences, farther they are, the more it looks like they have complicated simple things unnecessarily. Their issues are in reality simpler than the scientist doing it dare to confess, and they are wrong and misguided with them. For you, novice in their field, their science seems simpler than they claim. How could it be so?

Because (a) holds for every player in this game. Every science seems shallow, but is deep.

EvoPsych types do that (b) a lot, bulldoze social science issues while thinking (a) about themselves. I do that a lot when reading EvoPsych stuff. Sciences can be really wrong, but even then the mistakes are in depths, dismissing them by surface doesn't help.
posted by Free word order! at 5:17 AM on November 17, 2007


Modern humans and Neandertals may or may not have intermarried.

Paleontologists have found at least one buried infant skeleton that seemed to be a Neanderthal/Homo sapiens hybrid. So some "intermarriage" or crossbreeding went on at some point, but the progeny (or the Neanderthal genes) did not make it very far before being wiped out. That's the prevailing theory anyway.
posted by Devils Slide at 5:28 AM on November 17, 2007


Oh, and another thing to keep in mind is that over 90% of the Neanderthal diet consisted of meat, so their females did not really have the option of gathering fruits and vegetables. Meat, or basically large wild game (rather than items such as shellfish and the like) was what was for dinner.
posted by Devils Slide at 5:37 AM on November 17, 2007


When I was doing anthropology in the 80's there was a theory that Neanderthals died out because their heads (aka brains) were too big for their small pelvic'ed mothers to give birth to them sufficiently frequently. Who knows? I like the idea that they went extinct because they were brighter than we were. But then, if you guessed you were going to turn out like us, you might not want to get born, either.
posted by jennydiski at 5:45 AM on November 17, 2007


sonohito - I certainly believe that there's politically-subversive science out there. I was pointing out that this is a situation in which it's especially tempting to censor the science with a "correct" political view, which is more insidious. I think that's how it all begins, when the good guys let one slide.

Or maybe it all begins with rodeo.
posted by XMLicious at 5:59 AM on November 17, 2007


And on the actual science issue at hand, it seems to me that the actual evolutionary advantage conferred wouldn't necessarily be related to gender at all - it could be something more like specialization of labor. If the Neanderthals were too dumb, or too smart, or too liberal and egalitarian to have the hunters always be hunters and the tool-makers always be tool-makers and the child-rearers always be child-rearers, division of labor as crude as gender roles might have made a crucial difference. Throw in some increased cranial capacity, more articulated vocal cords maybe, and it's us who win the paleolithic X-Prize and not them.
posted by XMLicious at 6:24 AM on November 17, 2007


Females hunting seems to work pretty well for lions. In fact, if you have a majority of competent female hunters, then extra males just mean more fights and violence, generally.

Did Neanderthals even have hunt strategies/sharing, or was it "hunt or don't eat"? Did all Neanderthals have it so rough, or only those in remoter, less-food intensive locations? Do we know how many female Neanderthals there were hunting/not hunting, what their fertility was like, and thus have any hard evidence whatsoever that hunting was an impact in the way this article implies?

Oh and in modern human tribes, women don't usually have one baby a year. They breastfeed one baby for 2 or more years or so and thus suppress their fertility. Of course, we don't know if Neanderthals did this, either.

I think anthropological theories are fun, and actually find this one interesting. The anti-feminist framing of the reporting about it, however, is about as blatant as it can get, and thus obscures whatever real knowledge could be gained. There is a long disgraceful history of "prehistoric men and women did X, therefore, women who don't are unnatural and wrong or deluding themselves" stories, that pop up (if you keep your eyes open) with surprising regularity.

And yes, it does get old. Very old.
posted by emjaybee at 6:50 AM on November 17, 2007


XMLicious wrote I think that's how it all begins, when the good guys let one slide.

Um. I think you need to rethink that statement. The EvoPsych crap has been out there for some time now, its hardly as if things were going just peachy-keen fine and dandy until today when suddenly, without any provocation or reason at all, nasty feminists suddenly started, out of nowhere, attacking some perfectly legitimate and unimpechable science.

The EvoPsych twits started this a long time back kimosabe. If their vile actions have produced a completely reasonable and absolutely rational distrust of studies that say (in essence) "ha ha, women should be stuck with shit work because biology and science say so!", I'm sorry for the legit scientists who get caught in that backlash, but its hardly the fault of feminism.

If we start from the assumption that this study is legit, and you want to gripe at the people responsible for it being highly distrusted, gripe at the EvoPsych misognysts, leave us feminists alone.

The backlash you're seeing here isn't feminism's fault, its the fault of all the misogny masquarading as science that's touted in the so-called liberal media every time some EvoPsych twit comes up with yet another Just So story to explain why women should get back into the kitchen. If feminists seem a bit touchy on this issue, its because we've been beaten over the head with EvoPsych crap for so long.
posted by sotonohito at 6:52 AM on November 17, 2007 [4 favorites]


yhbc: "jon - nope. We're all descended from Cro-magnon man, who took over the Neanderthal's European territory and either wiped them out or moved in after they all died out, depending on whose theory is correct. The Neanderthals are generally accepted to be an evolutionary dead link."

Who else remembers Sliders? That was a great show until the Neanderthals showed up.
posted by who squared at 7:49 AM on November 17, 2007


sotonohito - I'm not a scientist. I'm not griping about anything. I don't know anything about this media war you're talking about and I'm not involved in it.

I'm talking about intellectual dishonesty and abrogation of the public trust that is science for the sake of political goals, by scientists and non-scientists alike. That's something larger than your and my favorite isms, is what I'm saying. And the point when the really damaging intellectual dishonesty and abrogation of the public trust begins is when the good guys bend the rules a little and start squashing ideas that would be inconvenient politically or might be a setback in the debate of the moment.

If there really is a coordinated effort to create pseudo-scientific propaganda to undermine feminism - and that sort of campaign is by no means unheard of these days - I can understand your response to my point and I'm inclined to look at the underpinnings of this study with a more critical eye. And pardon me for spelling your name incorrectly above.
posted by XMLicious at 8:08 AM on November 17, 2007


P.S. When I say "I'm not griping about anything" I really mean it - I'm not arguing that anyone in this thread has dismissed this study for political reasons, I'm urging that they not do so in the future.
posted by XMLicious at 8:31 AM on November 17, 2007


...it's a safe bet that female hunters got stomped, gored, and worse with appalling frequency.

Does this mean it's less appalling when men are stomped, gored, and worse? We must protect those fragile women, right?
posted by obvious at 9:39 AM on November 17, 2007


XMLicious As for my name, don't sweat it, truth told I didn't notice you'd misspelled it until you appologized for doing so.

As for the rest.

There is, in fact, a campaign of the sort I described going on, and it has been for some time now. I'm not saying that this study is part of it, though I can't tell since the people who did the study are completely unmentioned in Nickerson's article as is their journal, etc.

However, the EvoPsych types have already poisoned the well, note that the Boston Globe in the title of its writeup tries to tie feminism (a modern political movement) with Neanderthal women hunting, and goes on to explicitly state that feminism (which has nothing to do with the hunting practices of Neanderthals) may have been responsible for their extinction.

Nickerson doesn't list the author or publisher or anything about the actual study he cites, so we can't read it and see what the actual scientist said. The "blame feminism" meme is strong these days, its quite possible Nickerson wasn't deliberately trying to defame feminism, but merely thought it'd make a cute opening couple of paragraphs for the other (not related to the completely mysterious study he cites in the second paragraph) stuff. If so it merely goes to show how deeply imbedded the "you can bash feminism all you want, its cool" idea is.

Saying "it is possible that Neanderthal inclusion of Neanderthal females in the hunting of big game may have contributed to their extinction" is one thing. It may be true, and as I wrote it it sounds pretty politicall neutral.

Saying, as Nickerson did "The Neanderthal extinction some 30,000 years ago remains one of the great riddles of evolution [...] But a recent study introduces another explanation: Stone Age feminism." is another thing altogether and is most decidedly not politically neutral.

As I said, its quite likely that us feminists are touchy on the subject due to the long years of listening to EvoPsych morons. My suggestion for improving things is to get science reporting to stop putting an anti-feminist bais into everything they can. And it isn't just the non-science press doing so.

See: this interesting bit. Its a breakdown of a story appearing in Science Daily. The EvoPsych gimmie towards the end was particularly fun, but the general conslusion "women like pink better" vs. "men don't see color as well as women" is the real kicker.

My point is that this story kicked some raw nerve endings, and as Nickerson reported things he very much bought into the atmosphere that the anti-feminist crowd has been making great effort to construct.
posted by sotonohito at 9:46 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]



And you silly boys wonder why some of my Mefite sisters call this a "boyzone" posted by amyms


a man can be enlightened and non-sexist and liberated... posted by jonmc


Oops, sorry hojoki... And, jonmc, point taken. I was just being light-hearted. posted by amyms

And yet you get three misguided favorites for a overzealous comment. Dammit Meta-filter is NOT a "boyzone" I'd put money that it's 50/50, if more women by a hair. Despite this being the most egalitarian , least ignorant and least racist site I can find on the net, it's women are the most whine-y.
posted by Student of Man at 11:32 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


And yet you get three misguided favorites for a overzealous comment.

Oy.

1. You have no idea why people favorited that comment. Possibly it was favorited because people thought it was

2. A joke.
posted by rtha at 12:59 PM on November 17, 2007


I just favorited Student of Man's comment because it is so funny, in an ironic/sarcastic impersonation of a damned fool way.
posted by wendell at 1:28 PM on November 17, 2007


In more obvious science and sex news: Teenage Sex Won't Ruin Your Life, Britney and K-Fed Are Screwed Up
posted by homunculus at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2007


Rodeo Killed The Neanderthal

I found your bones from the dig in Sukhaya.
Lying awake thinking what have they done to you.
If I was young it didn't stop me finding out.

Oh-a oh

They took the credit for your first mastodon
Undoed by farming and newfound machismo
and now I understand the problems you can see.

Oh-a oh.
I never met your children.
Oh-a oh.

What would I tell them?
Rodeo killed the Neanderthal.
Rodeo killed the Neanderthal.

Head came out and broke your pelvis?
Oh-a-a-a oh

And now we're fighting in academia.
They claim it was your femine design flaw.
And you remember your wild rides.

Oh-a oh.
You were the first one.
Oh-a oh
You were the last one.

Rodeo killed the Neanderthal.
Rodeo killed the Neanderthal.
In my mind and in my heart, I can't forgive they've gone too far
Oh-a-aho oh,
Oh-a-aho oh

Rodeo killed the Neanderthal. x2

In my mind and in my heart, I can't forgive they've gone too far
Head came out and broke your pelvis, put the blame on kids.

You are a rodeo star.
You are the Neanderthal.
Rodeo killed the Neanderthal. x4

Rodeo killed the Neanderthal. (You were a rodeo star.)
posted by Free word order! at 2:23 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting read

Among Neanderthals, hunting big beasts

I read that as hunting big Breasts, and can't help doing so everytime.

posted by hadjiboy at 9:44 PM on November 17, 2007


Neanderthals died out because they weren't able to successfully implement any collectivization strategies. They could not adapt. I can see why a right-leaning spin against feminism would attempt to deflect this realization, because it threatens libertarianism as a warning. Perhaps more evidence that the right wing has learned to inoculate their believers well ahead of any threatening ideas challenging their expensive brainwashing.
posted by Brian B. at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2007


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