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The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out And We Survived (2009)

by Clive Finlayson(Favorite Author)
3.7 of 5 Votes: 2
0199239185 (ISBN13: 9780199239184)
Oxford University Press, USA
review 1: Whatever happened to the Neanderthals? Did Homo sapiens drive our beefy cousins into extinction in the first of many exercises in genocide as we spread across the planet? Poppycock, suggests Clive Finlayson, to whom such a suggestion is the very height of hubris. His The Humans Who Went Extinct paints of a picture of generations of climate change hitting the planet like a rolling barrage, stressing increasingly marginal bands of hominids -- humans and Neanderthals alike. Eventually the Neanderthals succumbed; the difference between the species, Finlayson writes, is that human populations were lucky enough to be in areas where they could adapt to the unpredictable environment. I've never had a problem with the Humans Are Homicidal Maniacs theory as applied to Neanderthal de... moreath, because we have a proven track record in that regard. Name a living species, and we've probably driven most of their extended family into extinction. Finlayson thinks the idea is rubbish, and while he's at it he also doesn't cotton to the idea of humans being responsible for other mass extinctions, like the mammoths. No, the malefactor was climate change, and climate change alone. Neanderthals weren't the slow, stupid brutes that people like to fancy themselves as having killed off in a feat demonstrating superior ability and intelligence: they were bigger-brained than we were, using tools and creating art just as we did. And their kill sites demonstrate that they were an adaptable and agile species to boot, devouring tricky prey like rabbits and birds.Finlayson's work is very much inspired by Guns, Germs, and Steel, which he refers to repeatedly: his last substantive chapter leads directly into Diamond's work, which demonstrated the importance of geography in human affairs. In Humans Who Went Extinct, geography and climate are the main actors. He relies both on traditional archaeological evidence and genetic tracking to put forth his case, but the overweening emphasis climate change seemed a bit much for me. I can accept human populations being marginal and strained, but surely we bear some responsibility? In those instances where Sapiens and Neanderthals shared the same area, I find it hard to imagine the two living in peace. Part of the difficulty for me in accepting Finlayson's arguments wholly is that the evidence is hard to come by, relying in part on inference. The scope of the question also poses a problem for anyone looking for definitive Answer: the drama of extinction played out on a a stage that encompassed most of the "old world", and thousands of years. My biggest beef with Finlayson is his dismissal of our having any role in killing off any of the ice age fauna, though that's only a sidenote and he may have been referring only to the European species.The Humans Who Went Extinct gives readers curious about the world early humans lived in something to chew over. Its view of that world as being turbulent and hostile, one that we were lucky to survive in, let alone conquer, is definitely one to consider, as is his depiction of the Neanderthals as people quite like us who had the misfortune of being in the wrong spots of the globe at the wrong time, whose population bottlenecks resulted in extinction.
review 2: A sometimes difficult read, this book nonetheless has some really interesting hypotheses about humans and Neanderthals. First, that Neanderthals were human, and although they lived for hundreds of thousands of years, succumbed to the vagaries of climate change in the end. Another important point: they were no more or less intelligent than ourselves. They mastered difficult terrain, ice ages and developed group hunting techniques and had language. The verdict is still out as to whether they ever interbred with out Ancestors. The author doubts it. Drawing on information from paleontology, genetics, geology and geography and ecology, the author develops his major hypotheses that we are here and the neanderthals are not primarily because of luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Jared Diamond is another author that explains this situation in detail in "Guns, Germs and Steel" which is quoted by Finlayson. In the end, he lays out some really thought-provoking ideas about how groups of human Ancestors, as well as other species, who lived at the periphery of the comfort zones known to them, were able to move into new ecosystems, creatively develop new ways of hunting and trying new foods and means of shelter, were the ones who evolved. The conservative groups, remaining in their rain forest or woodland were not as well prepared for the inevitable change wrought by climate.Projecting forward? When serious climate change comes to earth, which is inevitable, although perhaps a long way off (or maybe not!) it will not be those of us in our comfort zone who will survive, but those living at the margins of existence now. The poor and disenfranchised who grovel for their needs will have the resilience and wherewithal to cope in a situation of dramatic ecological change. It is us who will be lost without electricity, electronics, cars and food that comes packaged neatly in the supermarket. less
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Interesting yet incomplete; no analysis of recent research he evidently disagrees with.
Excellent overview. Good read for a lay person which I am on this subject.
Interesting. His ideas seem feasible.
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