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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

Neandertals and Modern Humans—Friendly Neighbors or Bitter Rivals?
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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What is an evolutionist to do if he or she is confronted unexpectedly with fossil evidence that disproves a long-held theory? If you are like many evolutionists, you simply get out your erasers and begin to rearrange the theory to fit the newly found evidence. And so with swiftness and determination, the legend woven around Neandertals gets untangled and rebraided into a new narrative.

For many years, evolutionists taught that Neandertals were brawny, prehistoric creatures that used primitive stone tools, whereas “modern” humans descendants were more sophisticated. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language uses words such as crude, boorish, and slow-witted to describe this species. However, the facts are slowly becoming known, and they are requiring a renovation of that definition.

In the March 2, 2001 issue of Science, Ann Gibbons authored an article titled The Riddle of Coexistence (Gibbons, 2001). The author begins with a dramatic opening, asking the reader to imagine forty thousand years ago when “our ancestors wandered into Europe and met another type of human already living there, the brawny, big-brained Neandertals” (p. 1725). She then goes on to state that “such a collision between groups of humans must have happened many times” (p. 1725). Can’t you just picture that introduction? “Hi, I’m Neandertal Man.” Reply: “Nice to meet you Mr. Neandertal, I’m Modern Man.”

This “collision” of two groups was necessitated by recent fossil findings that place Neandertals and modern humans in the same place at the same time. Scientists dated the remains of anatomically modern humans from caves at Qafzeh and Skhul in Israel, and found them to be 92,000 to 100,000 years old according to their measuring techniques. However, this is 40,000 years before the fossil record has Neandertals inhabiting the neighboring cave of Kebara, only 100 meters away from Skhul!

The article continues by stating that the real story from archaeological and fossil records suggests that Neandertals were neither stupid nor easily driven to extinction. Previously, researchers believed that the disappearance of Neandertals occurred aound the time sophisticated tools appeared, and therefore anthropologists concluded that the Neandertals had evolved into a more advanced species of humans (Homo sapiens). However with the fossil record placing “modern” humans in Oafzeh and Skhul 40,000 years before Neandertals, this would mean Neandertals came after modern humans.

This recent theory of coexistence in the Mediterranean is shared by others who have written books about the two groups coexisting in Europe for at least several thousand years (Bar-Yosef and Pilbeam, 2000; Stringer, et al., 2000). Most researchers conclude that although Neandertals and “modern” humans coexisted in specified areas, the Neandertals were “replaced, with little or no interbreeding, by modern humans” (p. 1725).

But if they coexisted, and if there were in fact two distinct groups, then what became of the other group? Without any scientific data, Gibbons is left to speculate that “modern” humans were the survivors because they had a clear technological and cultural advantage in Europe.” She then suggests that there is no doubt “the modern humans’ lifestyle quickly surpassed that of the Neandertals. Soon after they arrived in Europe, the modern newcomers made barbed projectile points and bone needles, painted vivid scenes on cave walls, carved animals out of ivory, and adorned themselves with bone pendants” (p. 1726). In describing the competition between modern humans and Neandertals, Steve Kuhn, archaeologist of the University of Arizona stated: “It was not a blitzkrieg.” Gibbons’ article goes on to state: “There are no signs of war or rapid replacement.” Jean-Jacques Hublin of the University of Bordeaux in France commented: “It’s not like one group was gradually digested by another one. They maintain their own identity for millennia.”

So we now are asked to believe that these two groups coexisted for hundreds of years, but that the competition with “modern” humans was simply too great and therefore the Neandertals eventually just “vanished.” I suppose many researchers are not cognizant of the fact that people long ago had variations in stature and bone structure just as we have today, and thus these “two distinct groups” are actually one group that utilized various tools and jewelry just as we do today. As American humorist Mark Twain once wrote in Life on the Mississippi: “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact” (1883, p. 156).


Bar-Yosef, O., and D. Pilbeam (2000), The Geography of Neandertals and Modern Humans in Europe and the Greater Mediterranean (Boston, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and Harvard University).

Gibbons, Ann (2001), “The Riddle of Coexistence,” Science, 291:1725-1729, March 2.

Stringer, C.C., R.N.E. Barton, J.C. Finlayson, eds. (2000), Neandertals on the Edge: 150th Anniversary Conference of the Forbes’ Quarry Discovery, Gibraltar (Oxford, England: Oxbow Books.).

Twain, Mark (1883), Life on the Mississippi (Boston, MA: J.R. Osgood).

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