The Neanderthals lived in areas ranging from Western Europe through central Asia from about 200,000 to between 36,000 and 24,000 years ago. The Neanderthals lived in groups of 30 to 50 individuals, they invented many of the tool types that were to be perfected by fully sapient peoples, they had weapons adequate to deal with both the cave lion and cave bear, they used body paint, buried their dead. Neanderthal Man survived through the Ice Age. They are thought to have had fire. Neanderthals lived side by side with modern humans for over 10,000 years.
There are many theories on why the Neanderthals disappeared. Most of them involve Homo Sapiens in one way or another, considering that the Neanderthal’s extinction coincides with the early human’s estimated arrival in Europe from their original home in Africa. The first theory states that modern humans killed off the Neanderthals. With a much more sophisticated technology, Neanderthals would have had to compete with modern humans for their meals. This would have definitely led to fight with starvation and a decrease in the overall Neanderthal population, which could have been the cause of extinction.
Also, in contrast to Cro-Magnons, who lived to well into there fifties, Neanderthals had a much shorter life span, barely surviving until the age of forty. The Neanderthals may have reacted to the new humans as enemies. Since the modern humans are presumed to have been smarter than the Neanderthals, and since modern humans are still alive today, this theory concludes that fighting wiped the Neanderthals out. However, this theory does have its faults. First of all, why would two cultures begin to fight after many thousands of years of peaceful coexistence?
Also, it shows a lot of human arrogance to assume that early man could take an entire species that was stronger and almost as smart as them and fight it to extinction. The second theory suggests that diseases introduced by the modern humans to whom Neanderthal man was not immune wiped out Neanderthals. It is possible that when Cro-Magnon man first encounter Neanderthal man, he could have introduced new devastating diseases, as the conquistadors did in Latin America. Neanderthals, not being immune to these illnesses would have quickly perished.
However, it can also be considered that when the two human races met, war quickly followed. Cro-Magnon man may have possibly exterminated the Neanderthals. In early human history, man has fought his own race for years to justly claim or protect what he considers his. Although this theory is plausible, it is not probable, considering that the Neanderthals lived in close proximity to modern man for so long. Still, it is possible that there was a disease, which caused the Neanderthals to die out.
The last theory states that Neanderthals were not in fact a separate species, but interbred to a greater or lesser extent with the incoming Homo sapiens, whose genes eventually became dominant at the eventual expense of the genes delivering Neanderthal characteristics. This hypothesis comes from the fact that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons inhabited the same regions of Europe for thousands of years. It is not beyond a doubt that they did come in contact with one another, possibly even trading and communicating. Neanderthals and modern humans became one species, through thousands of years of interbreeding.
Supporters of this theory state that some modern day Europeans have facial features similar to Neanderthal man. Neanderthal genes may have been inserted into the human gene pool, and Human genes may have been added to the Neanderthals. At this point, Neanderthals and humans may have evolved together at an incredible rate, becoming one race in a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, a disease, a war, or an increase in population causing the natural resources to be inadequate for keeping so many hominids alive might have cut off Neanderthals suddenly from contact with the humans, possibly.
In conclusion we may never be sure of the fate of the Neanderthals, until archaeological finds provide the evidence. However, they did have a human awareness for many things. Neanderthals were compassionate enough to bury their dead, care for their injured and ill, develop complex tools, create some form of ritual behavior, and communicate in some ways. It is this aspect of humanity, that was improved and carried on by their successors, Cro-Magnon man, who later dominated the world. In the Upper Paleolithic period Neanderthal man disappears and is replaced by a variety of Homo sapiens such as Cro-Magnon-Man and Grimaldi man.
This, the flowering of the Paleolithic period, we saw an astonishing number of human cultures, such as the Aurignacian, Gravettian, Perigordian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian, rise and develop in the Old World. The beginnings of communal hunting and extensive fishing are found here, as is the first conclusive evidence of belief systems centering on magic and the supernatural. Pit houses, the first man-made shelters, were built, sewn clothing was worn, and sculpture and painting originated.
The Upper Paleolithic people had a greater variety of tools used for different seasons. Plus their art is an evident in the tools and weapons they made. Their stone tools are finely worked, and they made a typical figure eight-shaped blade. They also used bone, horn, and ivory and made necklaces and other personal ornaments. They carved the so-called Venus figures, ritual statuettes of bone, and made outline drawings on cave walls. The hunters of the Solutrean phase of the Upper Paleolithic entered Europe from the east and ousted many of their Aurignacian predecessors.
The Solutrean wrought extremely fine spearheads, shaped like a laurel leaf. The wild horse was their chief quarry. The Solutrean as well as remnants of the Aurignacian were replaced by the Magdalenian, the final, and perhaps most impressive, phase of the Paleolithic period. Here artifacts reflect a society made up of communities of fishermen and reindeer hunters. Surviving Magdalenian tools, which range from tiny microliths to implements of great length and fineness, indicate an advanced technique.
Weapons were highly refined and varied, the atlatl (throwing stick used to give a spear greater propulsion) first came into use, and along the southern edge of the ice sheet boats and harpoons were developed. However, the crowning achievement of the Magdalenian was its cave paintings, the culmination of Paleolithic art. After 13,000 BC more clement weather patterns resulted in the greater availability of food. In tropical and temperate forest regions, Paleolithic tools, still chipped, were adapted to the new conditions. This period is known as the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age.
It began with the end of the last glacial period over 10,000 years ago and evolved into the Neolithic period; this change involved the gradual domestication of plants and animals and the formation of settled communities at various times and places. Mesolithic cultures represent a wide variety of hunting, fishing, and food gathering techniques. This is a clear indication that human populations developed new and ingenious ways to catch and kill animals, while the same time they devoted more energy to fishing and the collection of wild plant foods.
This variety may be the result of adaptations to changed ecological conditions associated with the retreat of glaciers, the growth of forests in Europe and deserts in N Africa, and the disappearance of the large game of the Ice Age. Characteristic of the period were hunting and fishing settlements along rivers and on lake shores, where fish and mollusks were abundant. They lived as Fishers and Hunters and kept domesticated animals (oxen, goats and sheep) and made rough pottery. Pottery and the use of the bow were developed. This was the period where the hafted axes were improved and where bones and tools were found.
The characteristic of Mesolithic tools was the Microliths , a small but hard, sharp blade. Such tools were given those humans the opportunity to clear the forests areas and can also be attached to arrow shaft by using melted resin as a binder. This tool also had allowed those humans to dig out canoes and skin-covered boats. In conclusion, The Mesolithic Period is part of the upper Paleolithic. It was followed by the pre-pottery Neolithic era and represented a new phase of culture, characterized by the beginning of settled life.