Neanderthals larger eyes may have caused their extinction

Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals comparison

Neanderthal may have reached demise since they had larger eyes that our species, a study suggests.

They may have been extinct through their eyes for it resulted in their brain devoting to seeing in the long dark nights in Europe with high-level processing at its expense. This ability helped our species, the Homo Sapiens, to adapt by fashioning clothing that is much warmer and to develop bigger social networks. This way, the Homo Sapiens made it through the hostile cold of the ice age in Europe. The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B Journal.

The Neanderthals are a closely related species of human that habituated in Europe around 250,000 years ago. The Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens coexisted and interacted for a short time until the demise of the Neanderthals around 28,000 years ago, in part due to an ice age. Researchers studied the idea the Neanderthals’ ancestor traveled away from Africa and then had to adapt to the longer, darker nights and murkier days in Europe. With this, they then evolved with bigger eyes and then a much larger area of processing of visuals on the back of their brains. The humans that stayed behind to habituate in Africa continued to enjoy bright days and so had no need for sudden serious adaptation. Our ancestors, the Homo Sapiens, then evolved their frontal lobes which then associated with higher levels of comprehending and intelligence, right before they spread out around the world.

Eiluned Pearce from Oxford University checked the theory by comparing 32 skulls of Homo Sapiens to 13 skulls of Neanderthals. She found that the Neanderthals’ eye sockets were significantly larger than the Homo Sapiens, with the average 6mm length from top to bottom of the sockets. Pearce said that though it may look like a small amount of difference, it was enough for the Neanderthals use more of their brain to process visuals around them. “Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking.” Pearce told BBC News. “We infer that Neanderthals had a smaller cognitive part of the brain and this would have limited them, including their ability to form larger groups. If you live in a larger group, you need a larger brain in order to process all those extra relationships,” Professor Chris Stringer, who was also involved in the research, explains.

The ability to adapt and innovate to the ice age was much harder for the Neanderthals since they were more visually focused because of their brain structure. This affected them that then may have contributed to their extinction. Homo Sapiens, according to archaeological evidence, coexisted with the Neanderthals and had needles that they have used to make clothing which kept them much warmer than the warps worn by the Neanderthals. These factors might have given our ancestors a bigger advantage that led to their survival. “Even if you had a small percent better ability to react quickly, to rely on your neighbours to help you survive and to pass on information – all these things together gave the edge to Homo sapiens over Neanderthals, and that may have made a difference to survival,” Professor Stringer said.

Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University supervised the study and said that the team wanted to change the stereotypical impression made by people towards the Neanderthals. The emerging research showed that they were not stupid, brutish creatures as Hollywood films would portray them but may have been as intelligent as the Homo Sapiens. “They were very, very smart, but not quite in the same league as Homo sapiens,” he explained. “That difference might have been enough to tip the balance when things were beginning to get tough at the end of the last ice age.”


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