Were other humans the first victims of the sixth mass extinction?


300,000 years ago, nine human species populated the Earth. Now there is only one left. The Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were about sturdy hunters (although its height was rather discreet) adapted to the icy European steppes. The denisovanos, who had a close relationship with the Neanderthal man, inhabited Asia. For its part, the two most primitive species, the Homo erectus and the Homo Rhodesiensis, occupied the territory corresponding to Indonesia and Central Africa, respectively.

Along with these other small-sized and small-sized brain coexisted: the Homo Naledi, who lived in what is now South Africa; the Homo luzonensis, In Philippines; the Homo floresiensis (called "hobbit"), in Indonesia; and the mysterious Red deer man, in China. Given the speed with which we discover new species, there are likely to be others waiting to be found.

About 10,000 years ago, none of them existed. The disappearance of all these species seems to be a mass extinction, but it is not motivated by any apparent environmental disaster, such as a volcanic eruption, climate change or the impact of an asteroid. In fact, the temporary processes of extinctions indicate that they were caused by the proliferation of a new species evolved between 260,000 and 350,000 years in the South Africa: Homo sapiens.

The expansion of modern humans beyond the African continent has caused the sixth mass extinction, an event that has been going on for more than 40,000 years and that ranges from the disappearance of glacial mammals to the destruction of forests already in our day. However, is it possible that the first victims were other humans?

Human evolution

Human evolution

Nick longrich

We are an incredibly harmful species. We hunt woolly mammoths, land sloths Y moas until its extinction and we destroy plains and forests to develop an agricultural activity with which we have modified more than half of the earth's surface. Of course, we have altered the climate of the planet. But, above all, we are dangerous to other human populations, as we rival resources and land.

From the destruction of Carthage by the Roman Empire to the conquest of the American West, through the British colonization of Australia, history is full of examples of peoples at war that displace and eliminate other groups from the territory. Not long ago, genocides and ethnic cleansing have been carried out in BosniaRwanda Iraq, Darfur and Myanmar. As if it were about language or the use of tools, one could say that the ability and tendency to use genocide as a resource is an inherent and instinctive part of human nature.

The most optimistic describe the first hunter-gatherers as peaceful and wild nobles and they affirm that it is our culture and not our nature that generates violence. However, the field work done, historical accounts and archeology show what, in primitive cultures, the fighting was intense, invasive and lethal. The weapons made by the Neolithic, including bats, spears, axes and bows, were extremely effective when combined with guerrilla tactics that included beating and ambushing. In these societies, violence was the main cause of death, with wars that caused a number of victims per person greater than the First and Second World War.

The bones and ancient tools found reveal that this form of violence has its origin much earlier. The American man of Kennewick, 9 000 years old, has the tip of a spear stuck in his pelvis. Nataruk, a 10,000-year-old archeological site located in Kenya, documents the brutal massacre of at least 27 men, women and children.

It is unlikely that other human species were much more peaceful. The collaborative violence developed by male chimpanzees suggests that war precedes human evolution. Skeletons of Neanderthals exhibit patterns from trauma that match the methods used in the war. However, it is possible that more elaborate weapons provided Homo sapiens with a superiority military, since everything indicates that they had among their arsenal with projectiles like javelins, thrusters, boomerangs and sticks.

The sophistication of culture and weapons helped to obtain more plants and animals that served as sustenance to increasingly wider tribes, which gave our species a strategic numerical advantage.

The ultimate weapon

However, the paintings, the sizes and the musical instruments They point towards something much more dangerous: a complex capacity for communication and abstract thinking. The ability to cooperate, plan, develop strategies, handle and cheating could be the ultimate weapon invented by man.

Being incomplete, the fossil archive is not enough to prove this theory. In any case, in the European continent, the only place that has a relatively complete archaeological history, the fossils make it clear that the Neanderthals disappeared after live thousands of years with us. The Neanderthal DNA trail found in Eurasian individuals It shows that we do not replace them after their extinction, but that we met and established ties between us.

In other places, DNA certifies other encounters with prehistoric humans. Population groups in East Asia, Polynesia and Australia have DNA of the denisovanoswhile DNA has been discovered from other species (Homo erectus, possibly) in numerous Asian people. Some African genomes show a DNA trail of other archaic species. The fact that we came across these species shows that they disappeared after their encounter with ours.

But why would our ancestors want to put an end to their peers, leading to a mass extinction or, perhaps rather, a mass genocide?

Spearhead in Peña Capón (Guadalajara)

Spearhead in Peña Capón (Guadalajara)

The answer is in the population growth. Humans reproduce exponentially, like all species. In doing so without restrictions of any kind, every 25 years, historically, we double the number of inhabitants of the planet and, once we become collaborative hunters, we end up with our predators. Without another species that controlled the numbers of humans and with insignificant family planning, and despite the late marriages and the infanticides, the populations multiplied and exploited the available resources.

An even higher growth or, perhaps, the food shortage caused by droughts, the harshness of winters or excessive harvesting, inevitably led to conflict between tribes for taking over the key territories for obtaining food. War became a way, perhaps the most important, of controlling population growth.

The elimination of the other species at the hands of ours was probably not the result of a planned and coordinated effort like the one we can observe in civilizations, but a war of attrition. The result, in any case, was equally blunt. Whipped by whip, ambushed by ambush, valley by valley, modern humans have mined their enemies and appropriated their territories.

In spite of everything, Neanderthals resisted extinction for thousands of years. This is due, in part, to the fact that the first Homo sapiens they lacked the resources enjoyed by the civilizations that happened to them: they were greater in number, they had agricultural knowledge, and epidemics like smallpox, the flu and measles they turned out devastating for his opponents. But, although the Neanderthals lost the war, the fact that they clung to life on Earth for so long indicates that they fought and won not a few battles against us, so their level of intelligence should be similar to ours.

Today, we look at the stars and ask ourselves if we are alone in the universe. The fantasy and the Science fiction they allow us to imagine a world in which we could meet intelligent species, like us, but different from us. It is devastating to think that once we met them and that, precisely because of that, they disappeared.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. You can read the original here.

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