Neandertals Had Highly Capable Hands, Study Says

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They were able to modify these "flakes" slightly, but overall their tools were rudimentary. The tools of the Cro-Magnon, however, often had handles and were standardized.

"There's no physical reason why the Neandertals couldn't have made those sophisticated tools," said Niewoehner.

The Neandertal hand looked similar to a human hand, but it was much stronger. They had larger muscles and broader fingertips.

Neandertals held tools between their fingers, something that required enormous strength. "The effect is like using a coin rather than a screwdriver to fasten a screw," said Niewoehner.

Friends or Foes?

The relationship between Neandertal and Cro-Magnon beings has long been debated. The two groups overlapped in Europe for 10,000 years, but many experts have argued that the two groups were distinct from each other.

Exponents of the out-of-Africa hypothesis of modern human origins argue that Cro-Magnon emerged from Africa with a superior tool culture and wiped out the Neandertal population in Europe.

Advocates of the "continuity" theory believe that Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal beings mixed and that Neandertals are fundamentally the same species as human beings.

But what caused the Neandertals to die out while modern humans survived? Since the Neandertals did not lag behind humans in terms of manual skill, there must have been another reason why they lost the evolutionary battle with their more sophisticated counterparts, according to the new study.

"There are significant behavioral differences between the two groups," said Niewoehner. "Cro-Magnon are much more innovative than Neandertals, especially in their hunting techniques."

The child survival rate was far greater among Cro-Magnon than Neandertals. The Cro-Magnon had better cultural buffering, which refers to the measures a species take to block out the harsh effects of nature.

"We can't look at Neanderthals as inferior to humans," said Niewoehner. "There's no probably no one reason why they went extinct."

The research appears in the current issue of Nature.

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