Is music one clue as to why modern humans displaced Neanderthals and now reign supreme?
One of the greatest mysteries in all paleontology is why we, modern homo sapiens sapiens, appeared so suddenly in Europe 50-65,000 years ago and equally suddenly (in paleontological terms) wiped out or subsumed the Neanderthals who had reigned in Europe for so much longer.
We know one of the reasons: we had better weapons than any of the other several species of hominin we were encountering as we fled drought in Africa.
But that sort of begs the question: why did Early Us know how to make those weapons and the Big Guy didn’t?
Neanderthal had a brain as large or larger than ours. It was a much stronger, bigger person. It would be like your high school football team beating the Seahawks (provided, of course, that Marshawn Lynch wasn’t denied the ball).
The prevailing views for last couple decades are changing.
The past notion was that Neanderthals lacked language to the same extent as our ancestors, because the absence of a hyoid bone suggested their larynx didn’t descend like ours. That is what changes our voices as we grow up, and it facilitates us making hundreds of thousands of sounds we can’t when we’re little.
Too bad. Hyoids presumed descended in the larynx in Neanderthals have now been found.
In fact descended hyoids have been found in even other old species of hominin, like heidelbergensis. I don’t want to give this up completely, though, because there are also Neanderthal whose descended larynx isn’t certain, but not so in any modern human.
How about art? Early Us left a lot of graffiti. Caves, the preferred domicile 50,000 years ago, are treasure troves of wall art, some of it quite masterful.
Well, a couple months ago scientists reported very primitive cave art found in Indonesia made by homo erectus a half million years ago!
And maybe even the Big Guy after all. Last year some archaeologists insisted they found Neanderthal cave art in Gibraltar, dated to 39,000 years ago.
Like Neanderthal’s maybe descending hyoids, I think this discovery is only maybe cave art by Neanderthals, because it might actually have been done by Early Us or by some progeny of Early Us and the Big Huy.
Now scientists are focusing on music.
Spears, rock axes, even picks and primitive balls and chains – and maybe now even cave art – have been associated with all sorts of early man species, some dating back millions not thousands of years. But musical instruments?
The oldest ever found and mostly accepted as such is a 43,000 year old flute. That corresponds close enough with the time homo sapiens sapiens began wiping out or subsuming the Neanderthal. But of course we can’t be sure that the person being wiped out wasn’t the piper.
The flute discovery has flown off into the stratosphere of tangents. All sorts of scientists, now, are wondering if chimps drumming on hollow logs is the precursor to Mozart, and that only Early Us mastered that maturation.
Take a deep breath, guys.
I think what we’re learning is that the whole range of things from better weapons to more advanced artistic and linguistic capabilities gave Early Us an extremely significant leg up not just on the Big Guy but every hominin to come before.
It was no single thing, and I’m sure music was a part of it. It’s much easier to go into battle against Neanderthal if you’re singing ‘Rule Britannia,’ can encrypt your texts and have a Gatling gun to boot.
Oh, by the way, the prevailing science today suggests that we didn’t wholesale wipe out the Neanderthal. There might have been skirmishes, but there were a lot of weddings, too.