Caught in the act

The fossil record is sparse. Let me try to explain that. We have at most a few hundred Neanderthal skeletons, most in pretty poor shape. How many Neanderthals ever lived? I think their population varied in size quite a bit – lowest during glacial maxima, probably highest in interglacials. Their degree of genetic diversity suggests an effective population size of ~1000, but that would be dominated by the low points (harmonic average). So let’s say 50,000 on average, over their whole range (Europe, central Asia, the Levant, perhaps more). Say they were around for 300,000 years, with a generation time of 30 years – 10,000 generations, for a total of five hundred million Neanderthals over all time. So one in a million Neanderthals ends up in a museum: one every 20 generations. Low time resolution!

So if anatomically modern humans rapidly wiped out Neanderthals, we probably couldn’t tell. In much the same way, you don’t expect to find the remains of many dinosaurs killed by the Cretaceous meteor impact (at most one millionth of one generation, right?), or of Columbian mammoths killed by a wave of Amerindian hunters. Sometimes invaders leave a bigger footprint: a bunch of cities burning down with no rebuilding tells you something. But even when you know that population A completely replaced population B, it can be hard to prove that just how it happened. After all, population A could have all committed suicide just before B showed up. Stranger things have happened – but not often.

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95 Responses to Caught in the act

  1. dearieme says:

    The abos killed off the Ozzie giant birds by cooking and eating their eggs. It must be true, it’s in my morning paper.

  2. spottedtoad says:

    Too bad the anatomically modern humans didn’t spread a layer of iridium wherever they did their dirty work.

  3. Charlie says:

    From the maps I have seen they occupied Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.

    How it is even possible to be said to inhabit such a large area but only have a population of 5000?

    It also seems quite hard to believe that people could have found as many as 1 in a million skeletons.

    Could the population have been larger?

    • ohwilleke says:

      The population of North America prior to the arrival of Columbus, much of which was supported by the farming of native domesticated like corn and beans was about 3 million. Now it is 425 million (including Mexico and Canada), which is of the same order of magnitude as the combined populations of the former Neanderthal range today.

      In Egypt, population densities increased by a factor about 100 after herding and farming were developed from its immediately prior hunter-gather days.

      If you extrapolate those figures, to estimate at order of magnitude level the number of people that hunting and gathering could support in the Neanderthal range, you come up with about 30,000. So, an estimate of 50,000 is in the right ball park.

  4. Charlie says:


    • Greying Wanderer says:

      Wrangel Island (7000 square km) is estimated to have supported an estimated 500-1000 mammoth.

      how many people could that size of herd support? (nb long gestation time)

      (Russia – as a proxy – c. 2,400 times the size of Wrangel Island)

      • The low population of Neanderthals means they weren’t particularly good hunters. We think (nobody knows, there are no real experts on Neanderthals) that they eked out a living ambushing animals that migrated in huge herds. I would guess they were stomped flat when they messed with a healthy mammoth, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t finish off a weakened one or drive away predators from a recently killed one. They used those big brains for something but damned if we know what.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          “The low population of Neanderthals means they weren’t particularly good hunters.”

          How many slow maturing mega mammals can you take in a year from a herd?

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        Oops said “(nb long gestation time)” but meant slow maturing so can’t take many from a herd.

  5. dearieme says:

    What do we know about their diet? Do we know whether they were predominantly carnivores or omnivores? Presumably that would play a large part in how many their cold world could support.

    • gcochran9 says:

      From the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios, very carnivorous.

      • TWS says:

        Read in a vegan journal in my Dr’s office an article about how the Neandertal were big into cooking starchy grains. Totally ignored the 98% meat based diet. The article made it sound like the Neadertal were hippie vegans.

      • ohwilleke says:

        Based on evidence from Neanderthal middens, also significantly biased towards large game relative to small game like bunnies and birds and fish, relative to Cro-Magnon.

    • Matt says:

      On that topic, the Neanderthal genome we have has low count copies of salivary amylase gene compared to present day humans.

      Compare the European hunter gatherers we and they have vary from low (but higher than Neanderthals), to as high as an Early European Farmer (Loschbour sample count 13, vs Stuttgart count 12).

      Cautiously possibly another plank of evidence in Neanderthals being quite carnivorous, and not eating much in the way of starch (while European hunter gatherers perhaps quite a bit less so).

    • GGG says:

      I have a theory about Neanderthal diet that explains their musculature/strength, dense bones, lightly worn teeth, why they had whistles and flutes, why they liked caves, why their barbeque pits are filled with the remains of predatory animals, and why they had stored food to see them through ice ages, supervolcanos, and every natural disaster for hundreds of thousands of years.

      Neanderthals were cheese eaters.

      We know the Neanderthal diet was 70%-90% animal protein, but that doesn’t have to be all meat. Dairy products are a “renewable” source of that animal protein.

      You can’t get dense bones without the raw-material that makes them – the calcium carbonate in milk.

      Today’s closest analog of Neanderthals, power lifters and body builders, eat huge amounts of milk derived whey and casein protein powders (see Jamie Lewis’s diet at [NSFW]

      You rickets-riddled Neanderthal in the London museum still had dense bones and large muscles and a diet of animal protein even though he never went outside to hunt or fish.

      To age cheese, you need temperature and humidity controlled areas. Caves are natural refrigerators for aging cheese. Nomadic hunters and gatherers don’t need to store food in caves, they need to be able to follow the herds. Besides, meat doesn’t keep long in refrigeration – you need to be able to freeze it.

      The origin of cheese making is unknown and milk fermentation is widespread throughout Eurasia, from the French to the Mongols.

      Having caves filled with aging cheese means that if there is a natural calamity, the Neanderthals can go inside and have fondue parties until the nasty weather blows over.

      Neanderthals have lightly worn teeth from eating a diet of mostly soft foods. Cheese is a soft food.

      Wrestling prey animals to the ground is a stupid way to hunt. But, you will have rodeo clown-esque injuries from being in close contact with large animals if you need to maneuver the animals into milking stalls or breeding corrals.

      Neanderthal’s fire pits often contain the remains of predatory animals like cave bears, saber-tooth tigers, and wolverines. Predatory animals taste bad. But it makes sense to feast on them if you are clearing a cave of threats for cheese storage or a woodland of threats for grazing herds.

      As mentioned in many places, whistles and flutes are key tools for animal herding. Being able to herd animals is important if you need a steady milk supply.

      Indian elephants, the closest relatives of mammoths, can produce up to 10 gallons of milk a day (

      Neanderthal-descended sapians are known to have better future-time orientation that non-Neanderthal descendants. Elephants (and presumably mammoths) have a nearly two year gestation period. It takes good planning to mate a mammoth that would only start to produce milk two-years later.

      Cheese can be eaten by people who are lactose intolerant.

      Last, cheese making is easy to stumble upon. Transforming milk into cheese requires rennet and an acid. Rennet comes from animal stomachs – as does an acid. Milk stored in an animal stomach will shortly become cheese.

      So, what do you think?

  6. rkr says:

    Based on elevated Neanderthal admixture in Oase Cro-Magnon and the physical peculiarities of Lapedo boy I’d hazard a guess that Neanderthals in Europe survived in mixed form until WHGs replaced them in a clean swipe, and I’m not talking about single digit admixture.

    • Romulus says:

      Oase wasn’t a Cro-Magnon unless you’re using Cro-Magnon to refer to all early AMH, which is wrong. Bichon was Cro-Magnon and had Y hap I2a, Oase and had something close to Y haplogroup N (some dead line of NO). WHGs are direct descendants of true Cro-Magnons, Bichon proves that. Loschbour and all other WHGs had their Neanderthal estimates done in a Recih lab paper which showed they had around 2% Neanderthal, less than modern day Euros.

      • rkr says:

        Good job being completely wrong about everything you said.
        The classic Aurignacian Cro-Magnons with their highly rectangular orbits and massive craniums have little to do with Bichon and that’s not up for debate unless genetic evidence proves otherwise.
        The term Cro-Magnon itself is just a category for all pre-Neolithic Europeans but it is more often than not used to describe specifically the Aurignacian type.

        • Romulus says:

          The authors of the paper on Bichon describe him as a Cro-Magnon and pictures of the skull itself show rectangular eye orbits. Maybe you should educating yourself a bit before spewing trash.

          • rkr says:

            Bichons skull doesn’t look Aurignacian/Gravettian at all despite his slightly rectangular orbits.

            There are no serious arguments for an Aurignacian origin for WHG since it’s associated with a physically different type not genetically related to Oase Cro-Magnon.
            We only need a little bit more ancient DNA and it’s a scientific fact rather than a strong hypothesis.
            I’m not sure where proto-WHG came from but I would guess it was somewhere a bit east of Kostenki since there was some connection between them.

          • rkr says:

            “Pleistocene Mitochondrial Genomes Suggest a Single Major Dispersal of Non-Africans and a Late Glacial Population Turnover in Europe”


    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “until WHGs replaced them in a clean swipe”

      If they were cold adapted they’d likely survive at high altitude longer than low altitude.

  7. I have read of an average population size of 20,000, but really it is kind of pointless talking about average size when the weather frequently went haywire causing very serious population bottlenecks. The Greenland ice sheet shows a very accurate average temperature going back 125,000 years and the weather fluctuations were horrific, at least at that location. One would think that the northern 90% of the Neanderthals were wiped out when the average temperature dropped 10 degrees in 10 years. They couldn’t just simply migrate south without killing the Neanderthals that occupied that range.

    This is one of the reasons I think it highly likely we picked up beneficial genes from Neanderthals influencing intelligence. They were placed under incredible pressure for only the smartest and toughest to survive when the weather got really cold really fast.

  8. candid_observer says:

    Your estimation here for the time resolution introduces more assumptions than is necessary.

    All that’s relevant are the number of generations (10,000) and the number of skeletons (say 500).

    This gives the average number of generations per skeleton — 20. You don’t need to make any assumptions as to the size of each generation.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Unless I was also interested in the general topic of what fraction of skeletons show up as fossils, which I was.

      • candid_observer says:

        True, but it’s also useful to note the restricted assumptions in this case. We probably have much harder numbers for the number of generations and the number of skeletons than we do for the average size of the population per generation.

  9. Greying Wanderer says:

    I’m wondering how other large social predator mammals manage energy consumption/loss. For example lions seem to pretty much just hunt-eat-sleep thereby minimizing energy cost. I wonder if prides of snow-apes operated similarly?

    In that context how long could a mammoth kill stay edible in a permafrost zone? Wondering how long a band of 10-20 could camp next to the kill conserving energy by figuring the total amount of meat available divided by the amount needed per day?

    As an approximation a quick google gives 2,500 pounds of meat from a mammoth (if you could use all of it) and 10 pounds of meat a day to feed a family of four on the US frontier so to make it easy say 25 pounds for a small band (probably wrong but this is just a first stab) so potentially a band could sit and live off a mammoth for 100 days – depending on how long the meat took to go off in the cold.

    Did they use cold storage pits?

    • Jim says:

      Amerindian tundra hunters stored buried caribou meat to consume during the winter after the caribou had migrated south. No doubt we wouldn’t have considered it edible but they lived on it together with whatever they could catch in the winter. The death rate in the winter was high.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        So potentially a small group could make a single mammoth last a long time.

        • Jim says:

          Yes, probably in a cold climate with strong stomachs.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            Just for the sake of argument

            band kill a mammoth
            – take tusks and long bones to make a frame
            – skin the fur to lay over the frame to make a lodge
            – butcher the meat and dig a bunch of ice lockers to store it in
            – laze about for a month

          • Anonymous says:

            When the caribou were present Amerindian tundra hunters had plenty to eat. They killed more caribou than they could consume and stored the excess meat in underground caches. This stored meat was important to their survival in the winter after the caribou migrated south. Winter was a dificult time. When the caribou returned the hunters were often so weak that instead of actively hunting the caribou they just waited until one walked close enough to shoot an arrow at.

    • ohwilleke says:

      For a long time, people thought that the main reason that wolves hunted in packs was that it took all of them to take down large game. Since then, biologists who have examine the issue have included that actually, the main reason for hunting in packs is so that the predominant share of the kill that is edible to wolves gets eaten by wolves and not lost to scavengers and decay. One or two adult wolves can take down large game alone, but they can’t eat it all before others get to it. So, rather having five pairs of two wolves make a kill that gets 80% eaten by others, a wolf pack of ten wolves can take down big game can make kills at the same frequency as a lone pair would have to in order to survive, and feed them all, reducing the burden on the big game herd, and the amount of energy expended per wolf per pound of food eaten. Neanderthal bands may have been driven by similar considerations.

  10. People running away before invaders would be just as replaced as those who were massacred in battle or those who just had fewer children and gradually got crowded out as they moved to worse land. They would leave a different track behind, but be just as gone.

    • ohwilleke says:

      Of course, the answer doesn’t have to be an all or nothing one. For example, it is very “convenient” that modern humans replaced Neanderthals very close in time to a major series of volcanic eruptions in Europe. Modern humans had lived in the Near East for more than 60,000 years, had lived in India for at least 30,000 years, and had lived in Australia for 5,000-10,000 years before they were finally able to overcome the Neanderthal barrier and migrate to Europe.

      It is plausible that this was partially due to the fact that circumstances including volcanic eruptions in Europe which probably disrupted climate and large game populations (deaths from the explosions themselves would have been few), which in turn caused Neanderthal populations to fall at something close to their record lows since modern humans first left Africa, and certainly to record lows since modern humans had developed Upper Paleolithic technologies and cultural practices.

      The fact that these events had more of an impact on Neanderthals than on modern humans, in my view, probably had a lot to do with Neanderthals not necessarily being less intelligent than modern humans (e.g. as estimate from their brain size relative to body size), but with Neanderthals having brains that were less plastic than modern humans. Neanderthals experienced basically one major technological revolution in several hundred thousand years during which they are present in the archaeological record, and another right around the time of human contact that looks suspiciously like the product of the introgression of modern human genes into some hybrid individuals (who are mostly Neanderthal after the first generation) within Neanderthal tribes during the transitional period. In contrast, there are comparable technological revolutions in modern human technologies every 10,000 years or so in the archaeological record. The comparative absence of any signs of innovation in the Neanderthal record suggests to me that Neanderthal intelligence was much more hard wired, while modern human intelligence was much more plastic, which gave them a much greater capacity to learn new things culturally without changing the genetic blueprints for their brains very much. In times when climate is fluctuates rapidly and the environment changes rapidly, this could give them a decisive advantage over Neanderthals who may have been less adaptable to new conditions.

      This volcano/climate induced weakness would in turn make the Neanderthals more vulnerable to death directly at the hands of modern humans (who probably outnumbered them because they could draw on a larger base of food sources at that time) and to competition for available hunting-gathering resources with modern humans (leaving to famine among Neanderthals which would lead to death from starvation, increased vulnerability to disease, and to vulnerability in armed conflicts with modern humans who encountered them).

  11. Joachim Strobel says:

    The limited fossil record is the reason why the old fashioned paleontologist would not care for Dinos. Terrestrial fossils as a whole were never regarded as being worth the effort. The Ammonoidea, extinct at the same time as the Dinos, are a much better research target. One finds, that the warm water types became extinct first, while the cold water ones migrated to lower latitudes before disappearing. This took some time. The Hollywood-paleontologist only saw the “rapid” disappearance of the few Dino bones he ever found and gladly believed in an impact as a good reason. Long term temperature reduction caused by extended volcanic activity is all it takes. Sure, a meteorite might help, but is not needed.
    I guess this is a good analog for the case of the Neanderthal.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Yes, most paleontologists that I know are willing to say that the asteroid impact “contributed to” the extinction of the dinosauria, but not that it was the sole cause.

      • gcochran9 says:

        They’re wrong, of course. Microfossils, in particular forams, are incredibly common, and thus give good time sampling. They stop abruptly. Same with pollen.

        I have read a lot on the K-T extinction controversy, and it has not improved my opinion of paleontologists. More on this later, perhaps.

        • Joachim Strobel says:

          It all started with historical geology where paleontology helped to establish common strata times across regions, countries and even continents. These guys described fossils in all details so that other people could classify them all around the globe and check what strata had a common age. They had to be rather rude. The disappearance of Trilobites and foremost Ammonidea (with only the strange Nautiloid surviving) was remarkable. Compared to that, the Dino stuff was more a joke. Well, Foraminifera did change a lot around the C-T boundary, but they are still around. Their value lies in the characterization of sedimentary environments. Sure, microfossils is the stuff paleontologist can actually earn money with, so it is well established.
          One meteorite for every extinction then? So few of them?
          And sure, the paleontologist where the first to say that human evolution stopped 50000 years ago. And it seems that they were dead wrong. But simply because their time scale is different. Do not blame them for that.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Almost all forams went extinct: variety re-evolved from the few surviving species.

            If a paleontologist doesn’t bother to learn as much about selection as the average farmer, he should just shut up. Anyhow, if we’re talking about S.J. Gould, he was a liar, not just dumb like most paleontologists.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          I’ll be very interested in what you have to say. Most of the paleontologists I know seem pretty intelligent, not obvious fools and charlatans like most “social scientists”, but who knows?

  12. Sean says:
    Neanderthals were eaten.
    A Neanderthal skeleton with a spearthrower dart wound is known, he’d ran off and died later.

    The Mesolithic Motala Swedish hunter gatherer population is only known from a grouplet that got got ritually killed,

    • TWS says:

      Probably like the spotted owl. Another larger variety of the same type of owl eats them and or breeds with them hybridizing them. That’s why they are going ‘extinct’ (they of course will live on as a hybrid species). We probably ate them and interbred with them.

      • Sandgroper says:

        That reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s character in the film Prizzi’s Honour: “Do I ice her or do I marry her?” Always a difficult choice.

      • epoch2013 says:

        “We probably ate them and interbred with them.”

        In such a scenario you would expect Neanderthal women to be to booty of raids. A bit like how Napoleon Chagnon described the Yanomanni. However, Neanderthal mtDNA should pop up among modern humans. It doesn’t.

        We know that male hybrid offspring would suffer the most fertility issues. If the admixture of Neanderthals in modern humans was due to rape of modern human women by Neanderthals we might see the admixture without any mtDNA or Y-DNA.

        • It’s probable Neanderthal mtDNA was quite a bit different than anatomically modern human mtDNA, Theirs would have evolved to burn more energy keeping them warmer in their cold climate especially considering they couldn’t sew air tight clothes. But this would have been very inefficient and unnecessary with modern humans who lived in warmer climates and could make far warmer clothing when they lived in colder climates. It should not be surprising that Neanderthal mtDNA no longer exists.

        • ohwilleke says:

          The most plausible scenario is that Neanderthal-human sexual encounters were either flings or rape, rather than long term relationships. Humans made have had sex with Neanderthal women, but they probably didn’t raid and capture them and integrate Neanderthal women into their hunter-gather bands.

          In that situation, hybrids with Neanderthal mothers would end up in Neanderthal tribes and go extinct with the rest of that tribe’s descendants, while hybrids with Neanderthal fathers would end up in human tribes and leave descendants. Thus, all Neanderthal hybrids who left descendants have human mtDNA.

          But, Haldane’s law was probably at work to insure that most hybrids born were girls or at least infertile males. Hence, all descendants of Neanderthal hybrids have human Y-DNA.

          • gcochran9 says:

            sterility in Human-Neanderthal hybrids: quite unlikely. Slightly reduced fertility associated with Neanderthal uniparental markers, such as Y-chromosomes and mtDNA: a priori fairly likely and almost certainly so, considering that they haven’t survived.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            “The most plausible scenario is that Neanderthal-human sexual encounters were either flings or rape, rather than long term relationships.”

            Some chimp females swap troupes when two troupes meet. Personally i’d expect something like that.

    • Romulus says:

      Probably doesn’t help that Cro-Magnons were a good 1-2 feet taller than a typical Neanderthal, hard to get away from someone who can run much faster than you.

  13. j says:

    If we estimate the average length of a Neanderthal generation as 20 to 25 years instead of 30, the number of remains found are even rarer. They probably didn’t wait to finish their postdoc before reproducing.

  14. jamesd127 says:

    Imagine a bunch of grain farming people and a bunch of cattle herding people. Due to civilizational decay, the grain farmers are not farming all their land, so the cattle herders breeze through from time to time, partly to pasture their cattle, but also for a spot of looting, raping, and burning. After a bunch of wars that the cattle herders mostly win, it comes to be accepted that the cattle herders can graze their cattle on standing grain. Grain farmers disappear in the archaelogical record before cattle herders appear, because it does not take all that many cattle herders to make life unlivable for defeated grain farmers.

    • dearieme says:

      Then the farmers invent the Maxim gun.

      • dearieme says:

        And, come to think of it, barbed wire.

        • IC says:

          Or walls (Chinese great wall and Roman Hadrian wall).

          Reality is that nomads became grain farmer once they occupied the more fertile land (good soil + rich water). Nomads tend to live on poor soil which can not sustain agriculture. If you visit Peru, cattle region is very bad land; farming is on good land. In USA, Midwest soil is top quality which is used for farming. Western states of USA have poor soil or bad climate which can only grow grass, only good for pasture.

          People often imagine that nomads as some kind forever winners in military conflicts which was far from the truth. It was losers who lived on bad land which is only good for pasture. People often imagine loser using great wall to fend out invading nomads. But they did not realize great walls only serve as inner defense with numerous military bases outside the great wall in occupied land. In early Ming dynasty, the whole Mongolia was under occupation of Ming force with numerous military bases (or fortifications) resembling USA military bases throughout world. The remnant Yuan Mongolian were pushed to the very edge of Mongolia. The great walls by no mean is China Ming borders. Yes most Mongolian lived outside great wall whose life was under occupation and harsh to survive on poor pasture land. They needed to trade or rob to survive just like today low class criminals who constantly commit property crime (stealing or robbing). Occupied people still committed crime just like today. The wall was more like for today gated community to protect law abiding people. Today’s world is good implication for ancient time. Just look at who are the people on good soil, who are the people on bad land like Appalachian or Indian reservation. While only bad lands were given to native Americans? If you are winner, you own good lands. The same rule applies in Ancient time. Nomads invasion into farming region was actually motivated more by survival desperation than macho ambition most times. According to Chinese history, each invasion by Xiongnu was due to bad year on steppe. With shortage of living material, starving people were motivated to join together to forming a raiding party (or army). Each time, their purpose was to loot, not occupy. Yes, climate change might explained a lot about ancient time also.

          If this is hard to comprehend about fertile/bad lands, I can give you personal anecdote about them. I own both type of properties. The lease for crop land in USA up to $300-400 per acres in Midwest; for pasture land $10 or less per acre in place like Nevada. If you can, you would not want to own pasture land which is way less valuable. Once having good fertile land, only stupid people want turn good land into pasture. If fertile land profitable today, it was profitable in ancient time (actually even more profitable). Winners could not be owner of bad land (pasture).

          • Difference Maker says:

            “But they did not realize great walls only serve as inner defense with numerous military bases outside the great wall in occupied land. In early Ming dynasty, the whole Mongolia was under occupation of Ming force with numerous military bases (or fortifications) resembling USA military bases throughout world. The remnant Yuan Mongolian were pushed to the very edge of Mongolia.”

            And of course Tang didn’t even use the wall

        • IC says:

          Mongolia is mostly bad land which can not sustain agriculture.

          Predecessors ( Xiongnu, Jie, Xianbei, Di, and Qiang) on Mongolia land or other bad land had proven repeatedly that they would become farmer if they had chance to own good land. Duh, only extreme stupid person would use apple ipad as cutting board.

          If you do not know what is ipad (apple), maybe ipad is brand name for cutting board for you (joke).

  15. Dale says:

    OTOH, as you note, we can have other information. In this case, non-African humans have 1% to 4% Neanderthal DNA, so something like 2.5 million non-African humans together have as much Neanderthal DNA as the old Neanderthal population did. The tiny fraction of Neanderthals remaining in the current human population is 1,000 times larger than the Neanderthals were themselves.

    So really, in evolutionary terms, Neanderthals were rather successful, and nowhere near suffered “total population replacement”.

  16. Dale says:

    Forgot to add: We can compare a historically attested event, the interaction of the Natives of North America (that is, what is now the US and Canada) with the English and French settlers. That was about as close to total population replacement as it gets; much of the interaction was with the intention of completely driving the Natives out. The number of current US residents calling themselves Native is about 2 million. Assuming that the Native blood-fraction of residents who don’t call themselves Native about balances the non-Native blood-fraction of residents who do call themselves Native, the number of current Natives is about the number of Natives living in North America at the beginning of the interaction with the English and French. (The number may have been higher before the Spanish introduced diseases, but that massacre was accidental.)

    So there’s an interaction whose intentions were borderline genocidal, but the subjected population remains about the same afterward.

    • TWS says:

      Having been on or around rez’s all of my life I can attest that very damn few of the “Natives” have very much blood quantum and almost zero culture. In the late 80’s early 90’s we started to see many of the younger generation assimilate towards the black gang culture. It was pathetic. No way left to follow the old traditions, no way to pass on traditions even orally most can’t speak their native language much less think in it. So they adopted ghetto style. Assimilating to the mainstream was right damn out.

      I don’t know any of my own family’s language except for the word ‘hat’. And that’s borrowed from French. It was the only word I remember my grandfather using.

      I probably have as much Neandertal as Native American despite the fact my Grandparents are from the rez. Most natives are Metis to some extent. It’s a matter of time unless we keep importing tribal members from Guatemala and Mexico before the last of the Mohicans looks like Elizabeth Warren.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Varies with the tribe. The Navajo average, I think, about 70% Amerindian, and I would not be surprised if some were 100%.

        • Anonymous says:

          You might find a literal handful here and there in out of the way places. You will still have the hold outs like the Navajo but they’re the exception not the rule.70% for now for the outliers. Otherwise we’re talking in the low hundreds of people who are 100% native.

          In the long run the Navajo might become the Basques of North America or they might go the way of every other tribe.

        • TWS says:

          The Navajo are an extreme outlier. Many even speak their language. From my experience the older generation was/is of course more native. Maybe the Navajo will wind up as the Basque of North America. You’ll find in many places where the kids are still ‘brown’ it’s because their daddy was an illegal alien. I suppose since that is a Metis population that counts in a double mixture way but their culture is toast.

    • Jim says:

      There were probably about 1-1.5 million Amerindians in North America north of Mexico at the time of Columbus. By far the greatest number of them lived in the American Southwest and the Pacific Coast where the settlers were Spanish.

      • iffen says:

        Is there any evidence connecting Mesoamerican Indians with the Woodland Indians in the SE? Any trade or cultural exchange? What about crops?

        • Jim says:

          Maize or corn if you will came from Meso-America into the present US . It was being grown in the US Southeast. by 900 AD. Yes there were trade links and cultural diffusion from Meso-America to what is now the US, particularly to the American Southeast which was the principal source of turquoise which was higly valued by Meso-
          Americans. In return tropical bird feathers were exported to the American Southeast. There was also probably some trade and cultural diffusion from Meso-America into the US Southeast.

  17. Glossy says:

    so one in a million Neanderthals ends up in a museum

    After “He Said He Was High-Caste” you could have made it a streak with the very un-PC “One in a Million”.

  18. IC says:

    For the same size of land, there are more herbivore than carnivores due to different amount of food available to each category. So you always have more plants > herbivores > carnivores.

    The same rule applies to human. For the same size of land, more farmers can survive than hunter-gatherer due to different amount of food available to each category. If they live in different region, all fine. If they live together, hunter-gatherers is doomed to be out-breeded by farmer in a very short period times (couple of hundred years of USA history). If home sapient has slightly advantage in survival, it could happen very fast just like today.

    But, transportation is very limited in prehistorical time. I doubt human migration could be very fast. Slow migration with introgression was very likely process. But today native Americans has considerable introgression components already. After thousands years, native American might well become some one like today Russian tartar

    • TWS says:

      Looks like a good percentage of the enrolled ‘Natives’ I’ve met. However, in the last fifteen years or so lots of girls are having kids with illegal aliens from Guatemala and Mexico. The Guatemalans are mostly Native so their kids are still Native even if they have nothing in common culturally. The Mexicans are some percentage mixed but who knows how much.

  19. ohwilleke says:

    There are lots of ways other than hominin bones to distinguish between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon presence in Europe and time the transition: Mousterian tools (Neanderthal) v. tools that include animal bone components (modern human); midden content biased towards large game (Neanderthal) v. midden content with many birds and bunny remains (modern human); little decorative art (Neanderthal) v. lots of cave paintings and crude statutes (modern human). All indicators are sufficiently associated with the homo species involved to make it a reliable association. The modern human strata in archaeological digs always comes above the Neanderthal strata in Europe and the timing of the transition is consistent with a modern human expansion from SW Europe at a rapid pace ca. 40-45 kya. The handful of transitional technologies (Chalopterian) and arguably hybrid hominin bones come right at the transition point. And, of course, the replacement happened over a period of time, with the last Neanderthal from a relict population known to the fossil record dying ca. 29kya, about 16kya after Cro-Magnon started to arrive in Europe.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Wrong again. You have to be careful with carbon dating: the farther you go back, the smaller the the amount of C-14. Even a wee bit of contamination can bollix your numbers, even when using AMS (accelerator mass spectroscopy). A group at Oxford has developed more accurate methods, which among other things involve sifting the evidence in a way that concentrates the most reliable, uncontaminated materials. Using these approaches, they have recalibrated many of these dates: all the most recent dates for Neanderthals in Europe have gotten a lot older. Right now, using the best available evidence, the overlap, the time between the advent of AMH and the disappearance of the Neanderthals, is somewhere between 4k years and zero.

      • Ziel says:

        So does that suggest eradication?

      • ohwilleke says:

        “Right now, using the best available evidence, the overlap, the time between the advent of AMH and the disappearance of the Neanderthals, is somewhere between 4k years and zero.”

        I’ve seen estimates of overlap in any one geographic area not exceeding about 1,000 years in most cases, but this partially depends on how big an area you are looking at. The overlap period during which both species existed on the entire planet was on the order of 200,000 years, the vast majority of which involved modern humans in Africa and Neanderthals in West Eurasia.

        The period during which both species were present in some part of SW Asia (i.e. the Near East), was definitely longer than 4,000 years. The first traces of modern humans there are in the vicinity of 125,000-100,000 years ago. Neanderthals were not entirely extinct in SW Asia until something like 50,000 years ago, and seem to have co-existed in reasonable proximity with modern humans from ca. 100,0000 to 75,000 years ago in the Levant, when modern humans had less of a lithic tool technology advantage. It isn’t entirely settled that modern humans were continuously present from their first arrival in SW Asia to the dawn of the Upper Paleolithic (the argument that they were not is sometimes called “Out of Africa that failed”), but there is strong evidence that modern humans were present in India both immediately before and immediately after the Toba eruption ca. 75,000 years ago.

        It certainly does seems plausible to me that the period during which both species were widely distributed within Europe was less than 4,000 years.

        Obviously, when you consider the existence of Neanderthal admixture, “zero” overlap (i.e. Neanderthals go extinct in a location, leave a vacuum and then modern humans fill the vacuum never encountering a Neanderthal in the flesh) is pretty much impossible, particularly considering the ancient DNA in Europe indicating an admixture event just a few generations earlier. It took a few centuries, at a minimum, for modern humans to spread from their entry point to Europe in SE Europe to the full expanse of the Neanderthal range, even if Neanderthal tribes were exterminated completely within a few years of encountering any modern human tribe.

        “And, of course, the replacement happened over a period of time, with the last Neanderthal from a relict population known to the fossil record dying ca. 29kya, about 16kya after Cro-Magnon started to arrive in Europe.”

        When I said this I was aware of a few re-dated finds, but I had not known that these recent dates had been revised so widely, making the overlap much shorter, which makes sense and makes developing a clean theory to explain what happened cleaner. Thanks for the update.

        In any case, the possibility that there could be a few tiny relict populations whose age is not revised when dating is re-analyzed that long outlast the rest of the Neanderthals in some isolated mountain valley at the fringe of their range somewhere doesn’t change the thrust of the significance of the swift replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans almost everywhere else very much. “Living fossils” of species long believed to be extinct are discovered by biologists every decade or so.

  20. Rum says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the case that no Euros living today have zero N. genetics? If that is indeed the case, in my mind it points strongly to the notion that N./CM hybrids had a major advantage over pureCM. in the habitat of the N. In fact, it looks like no pure CM.survived in Europe.
    Certainly, no one in Europe has ever been reported to look much like anyone from Africa.

    • ohwilleke says:

      The period of time that it takes for the set of ancestors of anyone now living to become identical to the set of ancestors of everyone now living is much shorter than you would intuitively think that it would be, even if some of those ancestors provide no major selective advantage to their descendants and are simply neutral with regard to selective fitness. So, your inference that N./CM hybrids had a major advantage over pureCM. in the habitat of the N. is almost surely not supported by your line of reasoning.

      It is fair to conclude that any major selective fitness disadvantage that N./CM hybrids had relative to pureCM. was selected against and that the particular N. genes that conferred the disadvantage have far below average frequencies in people living today in Europe relative to N. genes that were selectively neutral or conferred a selective fitness advantage which remain in the gene pool. Indeed, progress has been made to identify which functional genes in which N. and CM differed conferred selective disadvantages, which were selectively neutral (most of the N. genes in people alive today, and which conferred selective fitness benefits (e.g. some HLA genes).

      It is also not at all certain (and indeed probably unlikely) that the first CM to arrive in Europe had no N. admixture. The timing tends to suggest that most Neanderthal admixture predated CM arrival in Europe.

      “Certainly, no one in Europe has ever been reported to look much like anyone from Africa.”

      This is not true, and if you put your mind to it, I’m sure that you can think of exceptions to this statement (and not simply due to historic era migration either). Africa is a big place.

      • Boris Bartlog says:

        I doubt you can even make an airtight case for the ‘identical ancestors’ point for humans being more recent than 200,000 years ago. Naive diffusion models don’t match up too well to the evidence we have for inter- and intra- societal barriers to interbreeding. Check out the number of descendants Confucius has versus the number he should have if people just mated randomly. Of course it’s hard to prove anything much about the identical-ancestors point given that even one (now undetectable) incident of interbreeding could reduce it by some staggering span of time, and this makes the question not all that amenable to scientific inquiry.

  21. But your obvious common sense is racist so kindly keep it to yourself. There is a public relations game going on behind reality. Sooner or later science will deal with the Neanderthal shaped gorilla in the room by saying something along the lines of “yes we got some intelligence enhancing genes from the Neanderthals but the african population had a bunch of their own that didn’t make it out of Africa.”

    We have to keep pretending that evolution is not presently affecting humans one way or another. We can nudge slightly closer to the complex truth but we can never pull it completely out of the bag. So in the next five years or so when studies indeed confirm that higher intelligence correlates with a optimum group of genes and some of those genes came from Neanderthals out will come the above quote in some form or another. I could be wrong but I’ll bet I’m not.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I don’t know that Neanderthal ancestry is an important factor. Might be so but right how we don’t have the evidence. Taking a bigger perspective, I don’t see why reasonably complete GWAS results are going to change many minds, when experience and psychometric results don’t.

      • I think we don’t yet have the hard evidence that Neanderthal ancestry is an important factor in “the great leap forward” when we crossed a conceptual thresh hold and became modern enough in our behavior to roll over our competition like it was never there, but it is far and away the best explanation that we now have. The cool thing is we will probably get to live long enough to find out one way or the other and we will get to laugh at the shitshow of popular nonsense that is bound to pour forth thereafter, especially if my suspicions prove correct.

        • ohwilleke says:

          First contact between Neanderthals and modern humans in the Levant was about 50,000 years before “the great leap forward” that is used to denote the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, although this doesn’t necessary pin down when Neanderthal admixture took place (surely in more than one event with some admixture events having more impact than others).

          But, generally speaking, the time coincidence between Neanderthal admixture and the technological innovations of the Upper Paleolithic doesn’t seem to be very strong, and the evidence, in my view tends to show technological progress as a more of a cause for modern human conquest of Neanderthal territory, than a result of it. There isn’t any evidence at this point that any of the genes believed to be decisive in modern human intelligence are derived from Neanderthals.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            “First contact between Neanderthals and modern humans in the Levant was about 50,000 years before “the great leap forward” that is used to denote the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic”

            Given the range of Neanderthals they may have been differently adapted in different regions.

            Say for example there is/was a relative iodine desert in north central; Eurasia above the Himalayas and the Neanderthal (or whatever archaic) there had developed iodine retention to compensate but it didn’t effect AMH until they came in contact.

  22. me says:

    It’s Colombia (the country), not Columbia (the university, the river, etc.)

  23. JayMan says:

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