What? You think academics should be the ones to solve the mystery of why the Neanderthals died out? They can’t even work out that no man, ancient or modern, is going to walk over glaciers to inhabit North America when he can sail down the coast. Would you walk? No, you'd follow the seals, a movable feast, a source of food and warm skins.
Let’s get back to the Neanderthals. The only people on earth who don’t have Neanderthal DNA are people who never left Africa. All the rest, everyone outside of Africa is part Neanderthal as the latest DNA results show. And even this knowledge doesn’t help an academic solve the puzzle of what happened. Why did the Neanderthals die out?
Out we came from Africa, taking the shorter route across the Strait of Gibraltar, because my ancestors could sail even if yours preferred to get all hot and sweaty walking. We end up in what would become Spain. Who do we find there? Javier B. Neanderthal and he looks mighty fine. Sloping forehead and brow ridge look good on him. He has slightly less chin than Javier Bardem but the beard disguises that. He has freshly killed a mammoth creature with the help of his brother Antonio B. Neanderthal. They invite us to dinner. Where we shall leave them all for a moment to digest, while I digress.
What makes modern humans modern? Some say it is trade, because when we appeared trade suddenly expanded. But what facilitated trade? Early modern humans were very friendly. We still like to travel, have a good meal, and get friendly. While I told you this part of the puzzle, Javier B. and Antonio B. Neanderthal were finding out just how friendly we could be. Notice how I skipped over the heavy breathing bit to protect the modesty of our ancestors. By the time we parted ways, friendliness had added Neanderthal DNA to our heritage.
That is where the academics leave us. We have now between 2 and 4 % Neanderthal DNA, which means we met and got friendly as soon as we left Africa. But that leaves out of the equation the gorgeous Penelope C. Neanderthal, who was every bit as attractive as the men. And she brought her sisters to the party with her. So when we parted ways, we had diluted the Neanderthal DNA as much as they had diluted ours.
What happened to the Neanderthals? We befriended them to death. Maybe there were a few never lucky enough to be befriended, who managed to linger on until 20,000 years ago to give themselves a bad name as failures. The rest we were friendly with, until we couldn’t tell them from us.
The next time you see Javier Barden, if he is not wearing his No Country For Old Men face, imagine him with slightly less chin and you being friendly. It works for me.