Monday, November 12, 2007

Neanderthal update Stone Age feminism?
The Neanderthal extinction some 30,000 years ago remains one of the great riddles of evolution, with rival theories blaming everything from genocide committed by "real" humans to prehistoric climate change.

But a recent study introduces another explanation: Stone Age feminism. Among Neanderthals, hunting big beasts was women's work as well as men's, so it's a safe bet that female hunters got stomped, gored, and worse with appalling frequency. And a high casualty rate among fertile women - the vital "reproductive core" of a tiny population - could well have meant demographic disaster for a species already struggling to survive among monster bears, yellow-fanged hyenas, and cunning Homo sapien newcomers.

Not much to this particular bit except on the second page:
The University of Arizona's Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner, use archeological evidence to argue that Neanderthal females - unlike Homo sapien women of the Upper Paleolithic period - joined men in hunts at a time when stabbing giant beasts with a sharpish stone affixed to a stick represented the cutting edge of technology.

That's courageous, but probably bad practice for a population that never numbered much more than 10,000 individuals. The loss of a few males to a flailing hoof or slashing antler is no big deal, in the long run. But losing females of child-bearing age could bring doom to a hard-pressed species.

Which still isn't much. Division of labor is notoriously difficult to get at archaeologically (even though many think just by making a nice analogy you're done) so it will be interesting to see what they used.

UPDATE: Hawks has an extended entry on the red hair and FOXP2 stuff.