Were Adam and Eve Neandertals?

Modern two-legged primates of the species, homo sapiens, pride ourselves on our special place on the planet. After all, we are God’s chosen. It is true that when our ancestors traversed the Bering Sea ice bridge during an ice age, our entrance into the vast North American continent enabled us to hunt all of the large animal species to extinction. More recently, in the epic tale of Gilgamesh in today’s southern Iraq. Gilgamesh defies the gods by cutting down the forest. In return, the gods say they will curse the land with fire and drought. The Sumerians who created the story most likely deforested the land causing widespread desertification. By 2000 BC, soil erosion and salt buildup devastated agriculture. This forced the Sumerians to move north to Babylonia and Assyria as the first “climate refugees” in history. The first laws ever written to protect forests were decreed in the new Sumerian village of Ur.
 
In a similar way, the Mayans of central America, the Minoans of Crete and the Nazca of Peru owe the collapse of their civilizations in part to deforestation, overpopulation, and unsustainable agriculture. Stone age Europeans cleared most of Europe’s forests of trees using only stone tools. For 20,000 years, Europe was mostly grassland.
 
The species Homo neanderthalensis predates and overlaps with Homo sapiens. Over hundreds of generations, Homo sapiens bested Homo neanderthalensis in the contest called survival of the fittest. Both species are of the same genus, homo, meaning that we can interbreed with our offspring being reproductively viable. Indeed, on average, 4% of modern human DNA contains Neandertal genes. My wife says that explains a lot.
 
Back to the Neolithic age, both species made tools, drew amazing art on cave walls with paints made from plant dyes, survived multiple ice ages, and the Neandertals were recently reported to have had a spoken language. More importantly, the earlier Neandertals survived an inter-glacial hot house period in the earth’s recent geologic past. Homo sapiens has never been put to the test (yet) where tropical plants grow above the arctic circles.
 
Neandertals lived from 500,000 to 30,000 years ago. Homo sapiens from about 200,000 years ago to the present day. Why did “we” win over the much longer surviving Neandertal species? The following is my theory alone.
 
The canine teeth of Neandertals have no grooves unlike Homo sapiens1. Although the Neandertals were physically much stronger and more robust than Homo sapiens, their canine teeth made it more difficult for them to eat meat. Their larger molars made it relatively easier to eat vegetables and especially, nuts and seeds. Field surveys of Neandertals and Homo sapiens living in roughly the same time have shown a much greater vegetarian diet for the Neandertals compared to the meat-eating Homo sapiens.
 
I wonder if the genetic adaptations in Homo sapiens that led to improved ability to speak due to reduced prognathism, ability to eat more calorie-dense meat (which gives the individual greater free time to think and develop religious ideas), and the better nut-grinding ability of Neandertals may be a major factor in the rise of one species and the demise of another.
 
In particular, does greater meat-eating ability lead to an increased propensity to violence? Some scholars (I cannot find the reference for this) claim that all the characters in Genesis were vegetarian until after the point when Cain murdered his brother Abel. Moreover, recent Neandertal finds in a Spanish cave, led an artist to paint bucolic scenes of that early life2. Looking at the art made me wonder if Adam and Eve were Neandertals eating nuts and fruit primarily with little need to eat meat. The inter-glacial hothouse period that the Neandertals survived might have been a global garden of Eden, albeit a bit warm for my tastes.
 
Furthermore, it is the lack of body hair and the ability to sweat that made Homo sapiens able to run down game in a grassland. Yes, we are slower than antelopes, but early humans just kept running and tracking until the game being pursued died of heat stroke. This strategy only works in a grassland and not in the forest. Could destruction of forests be a legacy of Homo sapiens incursion into an area?
 
Homo sapiens may have bested the Neandertals through violence, especially if the Neandertals had developed few offensive weapons for taking game. Whatever the truth of the distant past may be, Homo sapiens have been dealing with our violent tendencies ever since.
 
 

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