Neanderthal: Hunting Practices
In Current Anthropology (47), Daniel S. Adler, Guy Bar-Oz, Anna Belfer-Cohen, and Ofer Bar-Yosef present an archaeological analysis concerning the hunting practices of Neanderthals and modern humans. They state their research "demonstrate[s] that Neanderthals and modern humans practiced largely identical hunting tactics" (89). Further, they feel they have discarded the notion "modern humans were ultimately more successful because they possessed some clear technological advantage" (90). Nonetheless, as interesting as this hypothesis is, there is some disagreement regarding their findings and correlations. Here, I will touch on a few of the article's key points, but my primary focus will be to summarize some conjectural problems.
First, Adler et. al. conducted their research regarding the hunting tactics of Homo neanderthalenis exclusively in one location. Although Neanderthals inhabited multiple areas (this has been documented), they chose to limit their "observations and interpretations to the data currently available from the southern Caucasus" (90). In other words, they never allowed themselves an appropriate, stratified sample. Certainly, multiple locations of both Neanderthal and modern human occupation should have been taken into account. Jean-Jacques Hublin and Teresa E. Steele believe "when a larger number of sites are considered, the general picture shows some differences between Neanderthals and modern humans in their relationship with animals" (108). Adler et. al., on the other hand, mentioned they were aware of other sites but chose not to recognize them.
Second, as mentioned, the crux of their study was to show modern humans and Neanderthals shared equally in their ability to hunt. Nevertheless, their study chose to focus on only big game. They focused on the Caucasian tur and stressed both groups were equally adept at exploiting this food source. Although it is true the Caucasian tur must have been a staple of the Neanderthal diet in the area, it was most likely not the only one of modem humans. In fact, Hublin and Steele feel "one of the major differences in exploitation of fauna between Neanderthals and modern humans was not so much in the hunting of large game as in the enlargement of the game spectrum to include small carnivores, hares, birds, and aquatic prey" (108). Remember, of course, our own species can be intensely adaptable to its environment when it comes to obtaining food sources. We are gracile and nomadic. Our species is capable of planning ahead. The Neanderthal, on the other hand, may have been "limited" cognitively in both choice and circumstance.
Finally, to their credit, Adler and his colleagues did choose to utilize numerous archaeological procedures to construct their faunal analysis. This included zooarchaeological and taphonomic techniques. The applications of these seem to be thorough and up-to-date with current, archaeological methods. All the same, the interpretation of the data gleaned from them is what is suspect here. If there is valuable insight to be had from their research, it is simply this:
"Ultimately, it is from this linkage between Paleolithic material culture and social identity that critical new insights into hominin lifeways will emerge" (112).
There could be some legitimate truth to this statement. After all, coupled with a changing climate, it is possible it was the social advantage our species had over Homo neanderthalenis that resulted in their extinction 28,000-30,000 years ago.
Daniel S. Adler, Guy Bar-Oz, Anna Belfer-Cohen, Ofer Bar-Yosef (commentary: Jacques Hublin, Teresa E. Steele). "Ahead of the Game." Current Anthropology 47 (2006): 89-118.