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We know that Neanderthals were carnivores, with a diet that consisted primarily—if not exclusively—of meat.
But a new study by researchers in France suggests that around 120,000 years ago, when a period of sudden climate change wiped out many of the animals who made up their food supply, some Neanderthals resorted to cannibalism.
In the 1990s, the remains of six Neanderthals were found in Baume Moula-Guercy, a small cave in the Rhône valley in southern France. The remains, which belonged to two adults, two adolescents and two children, showed many of the tell-tale signs of cannibalism: according to Cosmos, the bodies had been completely dismembered, and the bones showed both cut marks left by stone tools and bite marks resembling ones left by Neanderthal, rather than animal, teeth.
Evidence of suspected Neanderthal cannibalism is not new. In addition to the remains found at Moula-Guercy, researchers have also uncovered bones bearing the signature marks of cannibalism at sites in Belgium, Spain and Croatia (though the Croatian remains were later shown to have been damaged by natural processes).
In 2016, researchers presented the Belgian bones, found in a cave near the town of Goyet, as “unambiguous evidence" that Neanderthals practiced cannibalism. But they were unable to identify what drove these ancient human relatives to eat their own. Was it simply a case of needing nourishment to survive? Or was cannibalism part of a cultural or religious ritual?
The new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, suggests one explanation. The Neanderthal remains in the cave at Moula-Guercy were discovered in the layer of sediment dated to the last interglacial period, which lasted from around 128,000 to 114,000 years ago. During that time, temperatures jumped several degrees higher from the era that occurred directly before the interglacial period, as well as from the period that came directly after it.
When researchers examined the animal remains found in the layers of cave floor, they noticed the sudden change in climate had caused a dramatic shifting in food sources. Before the interglacial period, remains of larger mammals such as bison, reindeer and woolly mammoths, along with smaller ones like lemmings and mice, were found. But after the temperature warmed, they saw no evidence of large mammals, with snakes, tortoises and rodents discovered instead.
Scientists have long debated how meat-centric the Neanderthal diet actually was, and some evidence supports the idea that they consumed plants as well. But one recent study based on nitrogen isotope ratios, a measure scientists use to track the position of an organism in the food chain, found that Neanderthals mainly consumed meat, usually in the form of large herbivorous mammals.
The findings at Moula-Guercy suggest that as the climate warmed, and open grasslands turned into temperate forests, Neanderthals would have found fewer of these animals to hunt. As their food supply dwindled, apparently, some of them took drastic steps to assuage their hunger.
“The change of climate from the glacial period to the last interglacial was very abrupt,” Emmanuel Desclaux, co-author of the study, told Cosmos. He suggested the bodies were likely devoured over a short period of time, after their killers grew desperate to survive.
Such a scenario links Neanderthals—or at least these particular ones—not to ritualistic ceremonies involving human sacrifice, but to stories of “survival cannibalism” among modern humans. Among the most well known of these are the Donner Party, the ill-fated pioneer expedition that ended in tragedy in the California-Nevada mountains in 1846; the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crash-landed in the Andes in 1972; and even some of the starving settlers at Jamestown colony.
Why Did They Vanish?
If you visit an even moderately old museum display on human evolution, or open anything but the latest textbooks on the subject, you&rsquoll encounter cave-dwelling, mammoth-hunting Neanderthals who are beetle-browed, stooped, and distinctly unintelligent-looking. But over the past few years the Neanderthals of our imaginations have evolved marvelously, so that recent images closely resemble us (the Neanderthal woman in the Museum of the Confluences, Nice, with her direct gaze, is a prime example). This transformation has been driven partly by new discoveries in archaeology, some of which are truly astonishing, but also by changing societal attitudes about how we depict others.
Kindred by the archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes is a dense work, packed with information and interpretations that strongly challenge earlier conceptions of Neanderthals. Surprisingly, on the first page Wragg Sykes informs us that she will not introduce us to the scholars who have worked in the field over the past ninety years, because &ldquothere simply wasn&rsquot the space to mention the names and affiliations of researchers for every site or piece of information.&rdquo To my astonishment, the book is also entirely unreferenced.
Thankfully, Wragg Sykes does name some nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century researchers, and her accounts of these pioneers make for entertaining reading. Sixteen years after the first fossils of Neanderthals were discovered by quarry workers in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf in 1856, the bones were sent to the famous anatomist Rudolf Virchow. Virchow was one of those academics who make the current generation seem Lilliputian. Not only was he a medical pioneer, publishing two thousand research papers and earning himself the epithet &ldquothe father of pathology,&rdquo but he was also a revolutionary who manned the barricades in Berlin in 1848, a lifelong campaigner for social reform and sanitation, and a progressive parliamentarian so hated by Otto von Bismarck that the Prussian military leader challenged him to a duel. Legend has it that Virchow chose sausages as the weapon, one of which was loaded with parasites: Bismarck declined.
After detailed examination, Virchow proclaimed the bones to be the remains of a lost Russian Cossack who had somehow wandered to Düsseldorf and secreted himself in a cave, where he died. Disease, Virchow said, explained the skeleton&rsquos many peculiarities: the Cossack&rsquos bowed limbs resulted from decades in the saddle, and he must have suffered from arthritis, rickets, and a broken leg. The prominent bony brows, Virchow opined, were the result of excessive frowning from his chronic pain. It was only when a similar skull was reported, this time from a cave on Gibraltar, that Virchow&rsquos theory of the diseased, wandering Cossack began to lose credibility.
The great pathologist&rsquos tortured explanation might be partly accounted for by his opposition to Darwin&rsquos theory of evolution. But just as importantly, Virchow sought explanations that drew on his field of expertise. Each generation has remade the Neanderthals in its own image, and that someone as accomplished as Virchow could fall into such error should serve as a warning to us all.
It was the geologist William King who, in 1864, proposed the scientific name Homo neanderthalensis for the remains. But shortly thereafter he recanted, proclaiming that the creature he had named should not be placed in the exalted genus Homo, because it was &ldquoincapable of moral and theistic conceptions.&rdquo Ernst Haeckel, the great German biologist and coiner of terms including &ldquostem cell&rdquo and &ldquoFirst World War,&rdquo proposed an alternative: Homo stupidus. But taxonomy honors priority, so despite King&rsquos misgivings his earlier name has prevailed.
Over the years, as more evidence was unearthed, the Neanderthals became the Great Other: like us, but not us. By the early twentieth century, as colonialism spread around the globe, scholars began to portray Neanderthals as an extinct lower rung on the evolutionary ladder leading to that apex of human achievement, the European gentleman.
As the significance of Neanderthals to human evolution grew more apparent, myriad questions arose. Could they speak? Did they wear clothes? Did they love and care for one another? And why did they vanish? Wragg Sykes provides the latest answers to most of these questions and many others. She begins by noting the enormous geographic range of the Neanderthals, as well as the astounding diversity of habitats they drew nourishment from. After arising about 450,000 years ago, the Neanderthals established themselves from Spain to Siberia. They endured extreme Ice Age conditions but also thrived during brief subtropical intervals, when hippos roamed England and great straight-tusked elephants lurked in Southern Europe&rsquos luxuriant forests.
From the shores of the Mediterranean to the high Alps and on to the Russian steppe, evidence of Neanderthals is found in almost all environments except for wetlands. This absence is very strange, for wetlands are rich in resources and are important habitats for Homo sapiens. Wragg Sykes doesn&rsquot speculate on the significance of this, and without references, the interested reader has no way of pursuing the matter further.
&ldquoStand face to face with a Neanderthal, and they&rsquod be recognisable as a kind of human, but decidedly unconventional,&rdquo Wragg Sykes tells us. Neanderthals differed from us in being shorter, far more powerful, broader of chest and waist, more muscular of thigh, and more bowed of leg. With no chin and little forehead, their mouths and large noses would have appeared pulled forward, while their extremely large eyes, shaded by bony brows, must have been haunting.
I yearn to know what color those eyes were, what color their skin was, and how hairy they were. Short of finding a frozen Neanderthaler (which seems highly unlikely), and despite the fact that the entire Neanderthal genome is now decoded, we will never definitively know such things. Earlier genetic studies suggested that Neanderthals likely had blue eyes, white skin, and red hair. But as our understanding of the relationship between genome and organism has become more complex, certainty about skin and eye color has evaporated (though genetic evidence for red hair in some populations remains strong).
Neanderthal brains were subtly different in shape from our own. Some of the differences may relate to their acute vision in low-light environments, but others remain enigmatic. It was believed that the brains of Neanderthals were larger on average than those of modern humans, but now we know that this disparity was an illusion, since most of the Neanderthal skeletons that have been found are male, and males, being larger than females, have larger brains. Incidentally, a preponderance of males in the fossil record has been observed among other mammal species, but nobody is sure why some put this down to the &ldquoDarwin effect&rdquo&mdashaccording to which young males are more apt to undertake risky behavior such as crossing flooded rivers, which makes it more likely that their bones will be fossilized in floodplain sediments&mdashwhile others think that the thicker bones of males are better suited to fossilization. Remarkably, a few skeletons of newborn or very young Neanderthals are also known. Perhaps dead infants were hidden away by their mothers in places that protected their skeletons from destruction.
One of the novelties of Kindred is Wragg Sykes&rsquos discussion of the science of fuliginochronology. Established in 2018, this scientific method involves the study of the minuscule stratigraphic layers of soot that accumulate on cave walls. It provides the only means we have of counting the number of Neanderthal visits to caves, as one layer of soot is created each time a fire is kindled. At Mandrin Cave in southeast France, this method has revealed that the twenty-inch layer of sediment accumulated over the course of eighty visits. An exceptionally detailed study of hearths at El Salt in eastern Spain suggests that Neanderthals used the site for just a few generations before abandoning it for centuries, and then returning later. And the small size of hearths suggests that the visiting groups were tiny&mdashin some instances perhaps just a single individual.
Compared with modern human populations, Neanderthal skeletons reveal horrific levels of trauma, with most bearing the marks of at least one illness or injury, but some suggest that Neanderthals cared for the sick or wounded. The skeleton of an old man (known as Shanidar 1) excavated from Shanidar Cave, in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, had a shriveled arm, the lower part of which had been successfully amputated. He had also survived a terrible blow that crushed the upper-left side of his face, as well as other serious concussions. Most likely blind in one eye, partially deaf, and with advanced arthritis, he nonetheless survived and traveled with the group for decades.
There is plenty of evidence that Neanderthals hunted large mammals, and many groups appear to have been specialized big-game hunters, so injuries from tackling woolly mammoth or rhinos with stabbing spears could perhaps account for the wounds of individuals like Shanidar 1. Injuries could also result from Neanderthal-on-Neanderthal violence. In fact, the level of trauma on Neanderthal bones is little different from that seen on the skeletons of early Homo sapiens, much of which is widely thought to have been inflicted by other humans.
Clearly, some times and places were tougher on Neanderthals than others: when the Ice Age cycles reached their coldest, and even the hardy cave hyenas retreated from much of Europe, Neanderthals remained, and some became cannibals. Proof of Neanderthal cannibalism is now undeniable: skulls were skinned and tongues removed, leg bones chewed, and other bones broken up for marrow. It seems that, on occasion, entire families were killed and their bodies processed in ways little different from other prey. Wragg Sykes, citing the abundance of food available &ldquoat least seasonally,&rdquo argues that Neanderthal cannibalism was not related to starvation but instead had a spiritual dimension. Tellingly, however, signs of Neanderthal cannibalism are restricted to Europe, and even in historic times Europeans have resorted to cannibalism when other food is scarce.
The Neanderthal stone tool-making tradition is called Mousterian, after a rock shelter in the French Périgord. Wragg Sykes is an expert on stone tools, and she devotes several long chapters to the methods used by Neanderthals for knapping, or shaping, stone and bone. I must admit that my head spun and my attention wandered as I read the details of Discoid, Levallois, and Quina knapping techniques, along with the intricacies of where and when they were deployed. But it is clear that, within the limitations of their culture, the Neanderthals were master craftsmen. A touchingly intimate insight into Neanderthal table manners has been revealed through a study of their incisors, whose front surfaces are often covered in fine parallel lines engraved by the stone knives with which Neandertals severed mouthfuls of meat, gripped by their teeth and hands, from a larger mass.
Wooden artifacts made by Neanderthals are rarely preserved, but those we have are surprisingly sophisticated. Replicas of some lances used to kill horses 300,000 years ago in what is now Germany performed as well as modern Olympic-standard javelins. The glues used by Neanderthals to fix stone to wood resulted from an advanced, multistage manufacturing process involving the distillation of pitch from birch-tar. And there is no doubt that Neanderthals wore animal skins and lay on them, for there is abundant evidence of careful skinning of creatures like bears and wildcats.
Our knowledge of Neanderthal hunting weapons stands in stark contrast to the paucity of data concerning other aspects of their culture. The debate about whether Neanderthals buried their dead is longstanding. Some of the best alleged evidence for Neanderthal burials comes from poorly documented digs undertaken over a century ago, while older claims&mdashthat, for example, the presence of pollen around a Neanderthal skeleton indicates that the body was buried with flowers&mdashhave been disproved. Did Neanderthals dig pits in which to bury their dead? Did they cover the body with earth? Did they leave grave-goods such as animal jaws near corpses? The archaeological evidence is highly equivocal, which may suggest that if Neanderthals did have mortuary rituals, they were rudimentary or rarely performed.
Traces of Neanderthal art are likewise furtive. One possible handprint in ochre and a few roughly parallel lines engraved on bone or stone are all we have by way of their cave art. It&rsquos been suggested that Neanderthals used feathers as ornaments, but the proof is again scarce, as it is for other ornamentation. Eight eagle claws found in a cave in Croatia bear butchering marks as well as an unusual polish caused by rubbing against both soft and hard surfaces, indicating that they may have been worn. But the claws were found scattered throughout a thick sedimentary layer, and there&rsquos no sign they were strung together to form an ornament. A tiny, fossilized mollusc and two gastropods coated in ochre may also have been worn. As there is no convincing reason to believe that Neanderthals could make twine, if these objects were indeed threaded for wear, it must have been with bark or sinew. The rarity and indeterminate nature of such finds stands in contrast with their abundance in archaeological sites left by Homo sapiens.
In 1990, near the town of Bruniquel in southwestern France, cavers broke through a mass of rubble to enter a broad chamber that had lain undisturbed for many millennia. On the broad, flat floor they found two rings of broken-off stalagmites, the larger being twenty feet across. Each ring is composed of up to four layers of carefully matched and buttressed pieces, and fires had been lit atop them. In 2013 dating revealed that the rings had been constructed about 174,000 years ago. There are no signs that the chamber was ever inhabited, so the structures must have served a special purpose. But what? All we know is that Neanderthals labored to make these enigmatic features.
Genetic studies indicate that the entire Neanderthal population at any one time was small, as one would expect of an apex predator (for example, millions of grass plants feed thousands of zebra, which feed just one pride of lions), and strong suggestions of inbreeding point to the isolation of some groups. Populations with a small overall size and limited mobility are at risk of losing elements of their culture. It&rsquos striking that some of the best evidence for sophistication in Neanderthal construction and adornment dates to between 300,000 and 100,000 years ago, and may have been lost to later generations. Yet surprisingly complex technologies related to hunting and meat processing endured, perhaps because they were fundamental to survival.
By around 40,000 years ago, the Neanderthals were gone, and the sedimentary layers documenting the last ten thousand years of their existence are a riddle. Very few sites preserve undisturbed sediments from this period, but a few that do point to rapid changes in the manufacture of stone tools. Depending on where they occurred, these changing cultures are known as Châtelperronian, Uluzzian, or Néronian. The best documented Néronian site, in southeastern France, dates to 50,000&ndash52,000 years ago, which is thousands of years before any sapiens arrived in the area, so the cause of these changes remains mysterious.
Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 300,000 years ago, and between 177,000 and 194,000 years ago they colonized what is now Israel, putting them into contact with Neanderthals for the first time. The genetic record suggests that limited interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred until the latter became extinct. We do not know whether male Homo sapiens had sex with female Neanderthals, or vice versa. Studies of the Neanderthal genome reveal that the Neanderthal penis lacked the spines present on the chimp phallus (which act to irritate the vagina and deter the female from pursuing subsequent matings), so sex between a female sapiens and a male Neanderthal may not have been inherently uncomfortable, though we have no way of knowing whether it was consensual or if it even occurred. But as Wragg Sykes says, the incontrovertible fact is that hybrid children were born and raised to survive. They must have been &ldquofed, cleaned, kept warm loved.&rdquo
The survival of hybrids suggests that Neanderthals and H. sapiens should be viewed as &ldquoallospecies&rdquo&mdashthat is, broadly similar species whose ranges abut rather than broadly overlap. But around 40,000 years ago, something disrupted this. A jawbone found in Peştera cu Oase, a cave near the Danubian Iron Gates in Romania (which lies on a great migration route from Asia and Africa to Europe), provides an insight into what might have occurred. The jaw, which is 37,000 to 42,000 years old, is from a hybrid, one of whose great-grandparents (or perhaps great-great-great-grandparents) was a Neanderthal, while its other ancestors were sapiens whose genetic makeup falls within the diversity of living Africans. An analysis of fifty skeletons from Europe dating to between 37,000 and 14,000 years ago shows that they all were hybrids. It&rsquos as if, suddenly, the hybrids took over Europe.
Perhaps the most intractable misconception about the Neanderthals is that they were displaced by sapiens. Instead, it is now clear that they were replaced by a most remarkable population of stable hybrids. These new beings were soon painting in Chauvet Cave, creating some of the most brilliant art the world has ever known. And as suggested by pawprints from the same cave, they had begun an association with wolves&mdashthe earliest evidence of canine domestication. Europe&rsquos megafauna had lived alongside Neanderthals for millennia, but after the hybrids, the megafauna waned. It is almost as hard to picture this hybrid population as it is to picture the Neanderthals themselves, for they were as different from their parent species as the wisent (Europe&rsquos largest mammal, and also a stable hybrid) is from its ancestors&mdashthe aurochs and plains bison.
I have long hoped for a great, comprehensive book on the Neanderthals. Sadly, Kindred is not that work. Its lack of references alone makes it almost useless to scholars, and it includes much detailed technical matter of little interest to a nonexpert. Wragg Sykes has her own cultural biases, regularly citing uncertainty to downplay well-established aspects of Neanderthal life, such as violence and cannibalism, while pushing fragmentary evidence too far when arguing for refinement in material culture and mortuary ritual.
Perhaps it&rsquos inevitable that we&rsquoll forever see Neanderthals as reflections of ourselves and our values. But the increasingly nuanced archaeological and genetic picture is granting us previously unimaginable insights into Neanderthal life. Great engineers and precision workers in stone, they lived like the Swiss watchmakers of old in tiny, isolated communities. It must be admitted that manifestations of their art and other aspects of their culture are limited at best. Yet I&rsquom haunted by the vision, provided in part by fuliginochronology, of that solitary Neanderthal, sitting by a fire in a Spanish cave, looking out over a lost world. Where did he or she come from, and where were they going?
Neanderthal beachcombers went diving for seashells, scientists discover
Neanderthals hardly conjure up images of prehistoric beach life, but scientists have revealed surprising new details of how our extinct relatives survived.
Experts studied seashells fashioned into tools that were discovered in Italy in 1949 to reveal how some Neanderthals had a much closer connection to the sea than was previously thought, according to a statement released by the University of Colorado Boulder.
Led by Paola Villa, an adjoint curator at the University’s Museum of Natural History, the scientists analyzed dozens of shells found at the Grotta dei Moscerini, a beachside cave in the Italian region of Latium.
Archaeologists have known for years that the seashells were made into tools about 90,000 years ago. The new research, which is published in the journal Plos One, reveals that Neanderthals didn’t just wander beaches looking for the shells, they also went diving for them.
File photo - This March 20, 2009 photo shows reconstructions of a Neanderthal man named "N," left, and woman called "Wilma," right, at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
“The fact they were exploiting marine resources was something that was known,” Villa said in the statement. “But until recently, no one really paid much attention to it.”
The vital clue was that three-quarters of the shell tools had opaque and slightly roughened exteriors, as if they had been sanded down over a period of time. This is consistent with shells that had washed up on a beach, Villa said.
The remaining shell tools, however, are shiny and smooth on their exterior and were likely to have been taken from the seabed as live animals. “It’s quite possible that the Neanderthals were collecting shells as far down as 2 to 4 meters [6.6 feet to 13.1 feet],” Villa said in the statement. “Of course, they did not have scuba equipment.”
Shell tools discovered in the Grotta dei Moscerini in Italy. (Villa et al. 2020 PLOS ONE)
Seashells were particularly useful to Neanderthals because they could be chipped with stone hammers into thin and sharp cutting edges.
Pumice stones from volcanic eruptions were also discovered in the Grotta dei Moscerini. The stones, which were also used as tools, likely washed up following a volcanic eruption 40 miles south of the cave.
“People are beginning to understand that Neanderthals didn’t just hunt large mammals,” Villa said. “They also did things like freshwater fishing and even skin diving.”
Pumice stones discovered in the Grotta dei Moscerini in Italy. (Villa et al. 2020 PLOS ONE)
The international team of researchers included experts from CNRS, which is the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the University of Geneva, Roma Tre University, Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Pisa.
In a separate study released last year, a team led by anthropologists Erik Trinkaus of Washington University reported that many Neanderthals suffered from “swimmer’s ear,” bony growths that form in the ear canal through regular exposure to cold water or chilly air.
Experts have been shedding new light on Neanderthals in recent years. In 2018, for example, archaeologists in Poland identified the prehistoric bones of a Neanderthal child eaten by a large bird.
File photo - The hyperrealistic face of a neanderthal male is displayed in a cave in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern Croatian town of Krapina Feb. 25, 2010. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic)
In another study released in 2018, scientists suggested that climate change played a larger part in Neanderthals’ extinction than previously thought.
Last year researchers in France reported that climate change drove some Neanderthals to cannibalism.
The closest human species to homo sapiens, Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for around 350,000 years. Scientists in Poland report that Neanderthals in Europe mostly became extinct 35,000 years ago. However, there are a number of theories on the timing of Neanderthals’ extinction, with experts saying that it could have occurred 40,000, 27,000 or 24,000 years ago.
Climate change may have driven a band of Neanderthals to cannibalism
That's an often fundamental problem of archeology: You always only have small sample sizes, for various reasons. All what's left is the assumption that what you find is much more likely to be somewhat typical than a rare exception because there always are much more cases of the former than of the latter. But it's important to keep that in mind, yes.
I wonder why the temperature and sea levels rose without cow farts and airplanes? Almost seems like climate change is naturally occurring.
Either that, or Trump screwed them too. Im sure it was Trump.
A: can change due to natural forcings.
B: can change due to anthropogenic forcings
I guess I'd prefer cannibalism to starvation, but I sure wouldn't be excited about possibly catching a prion disease.I guess I'd prefer cannibalism to starvation, but I sure wouldn't be excited about possibly catching a prion disease.
I think your more immediate and upsetting concern would be the part where you have to eat people. Prion disease risk is nonexistent outside cultures that practice ritual cannibalism.
I think your more immediate and upsetting concern would be the part where you have to eat people. Prion disease risk is nonexistent outside cultures that practice ritual cannibalism.
Or feed ground cows to cows.
Not everybody though, evidently. After the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 most of the survivors resorted to cannibalism in order to survive, but some didn't and rather starved than eating human remains (and they did starve).
But I guess generally evolution has selected for the ability to overcome such reservations.
Putative progress, but at least it is published. Due to paleontological conferences a whole lot of putative progress is circulating in media, which will be interesting to read if it passes journal peer review as well.
The biggie being that they have found a sizable Denisovan skull piece - it is robust like their teeth, maybe a signature differing against less robust Neanderthals/Africans.
But they have also found possibly two northern introgression Denisovan lineages and more certainly two southern ones. The discussion seem to become that AFAIU one of the lineages is as different from the others as they are to Neanderthals and us, so possibly a candidate for another species designation, and that possibly one of the southern lineages crossed into us as late as 15-30 kyrs ago so perhaps survived longest of all non-African lineages. (Coincidentally, the robust Asian Red Deer Cave people are overlapping that range.)
I am pretty sure there are more to come as well, but that is what has passed my feeds the last few days.
Iirc, the Anasazi are thought to be the ancestors of the Hopi and Pueblo Indians.
Thanks for posting. Chaco Canyon should be on anyone's must visit list. I went twice, during a New Moon for the incredible Night Sky Program and a Full Moon for wonderful night hiking.
I have on good authority that human liver goes well with fava beans and a nice chianti.
That said, from my studies (PhD dropout in archaeology way back when), there is very little compelling evidence of "nutritional cannibalism" -- that is cannibalistic cultures that routinely seek out human meat as a nutritional supplement.
There is good evidence (and this article points to some great findings along these lines) of starvation cannibalism. This form is rare, and something each practitioner would have liked to avoid.
I've mentioned in other Ars articles that I studied the cannibalistic practices of early hominids during my university days (in the late '80s). Even back then, nobody really put any stock in so-called "nutritional cannibalism. The evidence that we had seen pointed to more opportunistic incidents, such as the one described in this article at Moula-Guercy.
However, while everybody else looked at the possible ritual aspects of it, I was looking at the nutritional aspect of eating human flesh, as it relates to staving off starvation. One of the things that I found was that the body of a medium-sized hominid could supply enough nutrients to sustain 40 other medium-sized hominids for a short time. In particular, if the bones were ground down or chewed, there is enough sodium (about 1 cup) to meet the daily requirements of those same 40 hominids. This was an interesting finding because hyponatremia (low serum sodium concentration) is a major issue for those suffering from prolonged starvation.
Anyway, very interesting article. As an archaeologist, I'm always happy to see more stuff from Kiona.
Did Neanderthals wipe themselves out through cannibalism?
They were able to survive the incredibly harsh Ice Age climate that took place in Europe for well over 100,000 years, but then disappeared completely 40,000 years ago. The extinction of the Neanderthals is often attributed to the actions of modern ancestors and climate change, but a recent study indicated they may have been responsible for their demise.
Scientists are now claiming that these early human cousins seem to have started to eat one another as resources became more difficult to find. This was happening in the face of competition from our Homo Sapien ancestors. Numbers would have inevitably diminished, and the populations would start to fragment to a point where it was impossible to recover.
A palaeoecologist at the University of Rovira Virgili located in Tarragona, Spain named Professor Jorif Agusti collaborated with his colleagues to use high tech computer models to delve deeper into what could have happened to the Neanderthals. They concluded that if Neanderthals had competition from modern humans that did not engage in cannibalism, then their own cannibalism would have caused a negative impact against their population.
A map depicting the range of the extinct Homo neanderthalensis.source
Remains fossilized and found in caves located near Europe have provided scientists with some insight that Neanderthals engaged in cannibalism to supplement their diet. Professor Agusti said, “Our results show that, without serious competitors, cannibalism is an optimal strategy in hostile environments. It allows a group to increase its resources and protects the zone from incoming groups. On the other hand, once a non-cannibalistic competitor is introduced in this very same environment, cannibalism becomes an extremely negative trait, as individuals still benefit from this behavior, but it is clearly adverse for the species as a whole.”
The behavior of Neanderthal groups did in fact ultimately lead to their own extinction when late Pleistocene anatomically modern Homo sapiens started taking their place in the environment. They were really well adapted to do so. The researchers involved in the study published their findings in the Quaternary International journal. A bunch of Neanderthal populations appear to have participated in cannibalism.
Reconstruction of the head of the Shanidar 1 fossil, a Neanderthal male who lived c. 70,000 years ago (John Gurche 2010)Source
There is also evidence that Neanderthals ate and butchered some of their own kind from location sites in Northern Croatia, France and Spain. In a cave in Moula- Guercy on the Rhone River in Adeche, France, there are 100,000 year old bones that were found. They showed signs of being butchered and eaten. This same barbaric scenario was found at El Sidron in Spain which had cut marks and damage to the bone. Scientists concluded that this was likely done to extract bone marrow.
The Neanderthal remains were about 43,000 years old, but that was just before they completely disappeared. According to Professor Agusti and his colleagues, the Neanderthals might have engaged in cannibalism fairly regularly. As resources in their environment decreased it only became more common practice. Even modern groups that conduct cannibalism struggle and see population collapses due to pressure from rival groups that do not engage in it. Researchers published that, “The cannibals that still survive are displaced from the richest areas, and live on the borders with arid areas or in isolated niches. This situation is remarkably similar to what we know about the end of the era of the Neanderthals.”
The site of Kleine Feldhofer Grotte where the type specimen was unearthed by miners in the 19th century.Source
There are still varying theories about what happened to the Neanderthals and why they ceased to exist. One popular one pertains to climate change that took place near the end of the last Ice Age. This group was less capable of coping in the warmer climate. This demise also occurred at the same time that anatomically modern humans arrived from Africa. It seems logical that these two groups were competing for the same resources.
Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) footprint in the Natural History Museum in Prague.source
More recent genetic studies have been published that revealed how modern humans and Neanderthals even interbred at some point in history. However, there are some anthropologists that suggest modern humans actively fought against and even helped wipe out Neanderthal tribes. The scenario that Dr. Agusti and his colleagues put forth indicates that Neanderthal populations would have likely collapsed regardless of interactions and competitions with the modern humans preying on them.
Neanderthal Teeth Were Eaten–But By What?
The teeth were found at the same dig site that previously showed possible evidence of cannibalism.
A new study of prehistoric teeth published in the journal Paleo suggests a large carnivore may have scavenged on the remains of Neanderthals 65,000 years ago.
The teeth were found at a dig site in Marillac, a village in western France and show signs of being swallowed and later expelled. Excavations conducted at Marillac from 1967 to 1989 have yielded several finds for scientists who study Neanderthals.
Now extinct, Neanderthals were once humans' closest relative. They extended as far west as modern-day France and as far east as central Asia.
Scientists who studied the teeth in the past previously concluded that they belonged to a cow or deer. But a reexamination of the teeth conducted by researchers at the Center for Scientific Research in France found they belonged to humans and were damaged after being ingested.
The site at Marillac is thought to have been a spot where hunters butchered their kills, a majority of which were reindeer.
A study published in 2015 also found human bones present at the site had been intentionally manipulated. Cannibalism or ceremonial ritual are the two prevailing theories for why they show signs of intentional cuts and fractures.
In a press release from the research institute, researchers noted large carnivores may also have feasted on the human remains, pointing to a highly competitive relationship between the early humans and other large predators.
A now-extinct prehistoric hyena that roamed Europe may have been a culprit.
In an interview with Live Science, study author and Princeton anthropologist Alan Mann noted, "We don't know exactly what was going on, but [the Neanderthals] must have left skulls or parts of the face there, because cave hyenas came in and ate them," Mann said.
Because some of the teeth were still connected to pieces of jawbone, scientists suspect a large carnivore would have had to carve into the face of its dinner.
Cave hyena skeletons found on the Iberian Peninsula show the cave-dwellers would have looked similar to modern-day hyenas. Scientists debate whether human influence or a changing climate pushed the species to extinction.
The French researchers don't know exactly how the Neanderthal remains may have ended up at the hunting site. A study published in 2013 found evidence of Neanderthals purposefully burying their dead, but Marillac was not known to be used as a burial site.
If the Neanderthals at Marillac were killed by a large carnivore, it wouldn't be the first evidence of the struggle between prehistory's top predators.
A 2015 study of Neanderthal bones found in Spain found puncture wounds from the fangs of an ancient big cat. While modern humans are thought to have outcompeted Neanderthals, the study suggests competition with large predators may have put an additional strain on the Neanderthal's fight for existence.
If Climate Didn't Doom Neanderthals, Did Humans?
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Neanderthals could handle the weather, but they couldn't handle us, concludes a new analysis of late-Pleistocene hominid habitation.
Soon after modern humans arrived in Western Europe, plenty of temperate, food-rich habitat existed for our evolutionary near-brothers — but their settlements dwindled, and modern human settlements spread.
These patterns suggest that one of modern anthropological history's great mysteries had a harsh ending: a competition in which Neanderthals, for reasons still unknown, were doomed.
"Neanderthals didn't end up being the champion lineage that emerged from the end of the Pleistocene," said study co-author A. Townsend Peterson, a Kansas University evolutionary biologist. "Wouldn't it be fascinating to understand that weird point in human history, when there were two lineages of Homo, in the same region?"
One popular explanation holds that climate changes were inhospitable to Neanderthals unable to keep pace with fluctuations in food and weather.
Indeed, the overlapping twilight of Neanderthals and dawn of modern humans in Western Europe, from roughly 45,000 to 35,000
years ago, was a time of intense climate disruption. Massive icebergs melting in the North Atlantic stalled major oceanic currents, producing rapid regional oscillations between balmy mildness and harsh cold.
Even so, when Peterson's team plugged existing data on past weather patterns and topography into climate simulations that produced a locale-specific model of ecological conditions, they found that suitable habitat still existed for both Neanderthals and modern humans.
But archaeological evidence of Neanderthal settlements shows their populations dwindled as their brethren became plentiful.
"You can't wave your hands and say it was climate change," said
Peterson, who demurred at describing actual conflict between the groups. "We're not demonstrating that there was some sort of interaction.
We're simply demonstrating that the alternative explanation doesn't cut it," he said.
But the team's paper, "Neanderthal Extinction by
Competitive Exclusion," suggests competition, a hypothesis strengthened by the eventual diffusion of modern humans into the
Neanderthals' last stronghold in what is now Spain. Neanderthals soon disappeared there as well.
Study co-author William E. Banks, a University of Bordeaux archaeologist, made no bones about it. "Our modeling indicates that Neanderthals could have exploited a niche expressed across most of Europe," he said. "The fact that their final contraction to southern Spain coincides with the geographic expansion of the anatomically modern human niche is not coincidence."
University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending, who reviewed the paper for its publication Monday in Public Library of Science ONE, called the findings "a real solid blow against the climate hypothesis,"
and lauded the researchers' careful analysis.
"There's a flood of papers out there about how selenium deficiency or cannibalism or one thing or another led to the Neanderthal extinction, and most are nonsense," he said. "This was real solid science."
But Harpending cautioned that other explanations, such as disease, are plausible, though no evidence for them exists, and perhaps never will.
"There's no way of knowing," he said.
*Citation: Neanderthal Extinction by Competitive Exclusion. By
William E. Banks, Francesco d’Errico, A. Townsend Peterson, Masa
Kageyama, Adriana Sima and Maria-Fernanda Sanchez-Goni. *Public Library of Science ONE, Dec. 29, 2008. *
Images: 1. An exhibit at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology / Flickr/Jacob Enos
2. In the left column, suitable range for Neanderthals in the right column, suitable range for modern humans. These run from 45,000 to
35,000 years ago from top to bottom, at first showing the disappearance of Neanderthal communities despite suitable habitat, and then the encroachment of modern humans into the southern Iberian peninsula /
Homo neanderthalensis – The Neanderthals
Click to enlarge image Toggle Caption
Neanderthals co-existed with modern humans for long periods of time before eventually becoming extinct about 28,000 years ago. The unfortunate stereotype of these people as dim-witted and brutish cavemen still lingers in popular ideology but research has revealed a more nuanced picture.
Background on discovery
This species lived between 28,000 and 300,000 years ago
- early Homo neanderthalensis from about 300,000 years ago
- classic Homo neanderthalensis from about 130,000 years ago
- late Homo neanderthalensis from about 45,000 years ago.
Important fossil discoveries
The first Neanderthal fossil was found in 1829, but it was not recognised as a possible human ancestor until more fossils were discovered during the second half of the 19th century. Since then, thousands of fossils representing the remains of many hundreds of Neanderthal individuals have been recovered from sites across Europe and the Middle East. These include babies, children and adults up to about 40 years of age. As a result, more is known about this human ancestor than about any other.
- Le Moustier – a 45,000-year-old skull discovered in Le Moustier, France. The distinctive features of Neanderthals are already apparent in this adolescent individual. This shows that these characteristics were genetic and not developed during an individual’s lifetime.
- Shanidar 1 – upper jaw with teeth. The front teeth of Neanderthals often show heavy wear, a characteristic that is even found in young Neanderthals. It is probable that they used their teeth as a kind of vice to help them hold animal skins or other objects as they worked.
- La Ferrassie 1 – a 50,000-year-old skull discovered in 1909 in La Ferrassie, France. This skull of an elderly male has the features associated with ‘classic’ European Neanderthals.
- Amud 1 – a 45,000-year-old skull discovered in1961 by Hisashi Suzuki in Amud, Israel. This individual was more than 180 centimetres tall and had the largest brain of any fossil human (1740 cubic centimetres). Neanderthals probably migrated to the Middle East during times of harsh European winters. These individuals had less robust features than their European counterparts.
- Maba – a partial skull classifed as Homo sp. (species uncertain) and discovered in Maba, China. This partial skull, dated to about 120,000 – 140,000 years old, shows remarkable similarities to European Neanderthals and its discovery in southern China suggests the possibility that Neanderthals travelled further east than once thought. More fossil evidence from Asia is needed to understand the significance of this specimen.
- La Chapelle-aux-Saints – a 50,000-year-old skull discovered in 1908 in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France. This male individual had lost most of his teeth and his skeleton showed evidence of major injuries and disease including a healed broken hip, and arthritis of the lower neck, back, hip and shoulders. He survived for quite some time with these complaints, which indicates that these people cared for the sick and elderly.
- Neanderthal 1 – a 45,000-year-old skullcap discovered in 1856 in Feldhofer Grotto, Neander Valley, Germany. This is the ‘type specimen’ or official representative of this species.
- Kebara 2 – 60,000-year-old partial skeleton discovered in 1983 in Kebara cave, Israel. This relatively complete skeleton belonged to an adult male. It was deliberately buried but as no grave goods were found it is difficult to infer any ritualistic behaviour.
- Lagar Velho – a 24,000-year-old skeleton of a Homo sapiens boy discovered in 1998 in Abrigo do Lagar Velho, central western Portugal. This specimen has been described by its discoverers (and particularly Eric Trinkhaus) as a Neanderthal-Homo sapiens hybrid. This interpretation was based on knee and leg proportions but as the head, pelvis and forearms are decidedly human it is more likely that the robustness is a climatic adaptation (see Tattersal and Schwartz). Comparisons to other humans of this period are difficult due to lack of knowledge on variations within child populations.
What the Neanderthal name means
Homo, is a Latin word meaning ‘human’ or ‘man’. The word neanderthalensis is based on the location where the first major specimen was discovered in 1856 – the Neander Valley in Germany. The German word for valley is ‘Tal’ although in the 1800s it was spelt ‘Thal’. Homo neanderthalensis therefore means ‘Human from the Neander Valley’.
Some people refer to this species as the Neandertals (with no 'h') to reflect the modern German spelling rather than the original spelling, Neanderthal, used to define the species.
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Remains of this species have been found scattered across Europe and the Middle East. The eastern-most occurrence of a Neanderthal may be represented by a fossil skull from China known as ‘Maba’.
A study published in 2009 confirms the presence of three separate sub-groups of Neanderthals, between which slight differences could be observed, and suggests the existence of a fourth group in western Asia. The study analysed the genetic variability, and modelled different scenarios, based on the genetic structure of the maternally transmitted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The study was possible thanks to the publication, since 1997, of 15 mtDNA sequences from 12 Neanderthals. According to the study, the size of the Neanderthal population was not constant over time and a certain amount of migration occurred among the sub-groups.
Relationships with other species
While we are closely related to the Neanderthals, they are not our direct ancestors. Evidence from the fossil record and genetic data shows they are a distinct species that developed as a side branch in our family tree. Some European Homo heidelbergensis fossils were showing early Neanderthal-like features by about 300,000 years ago and it is likely that Neanderthals evolved in Europe from this species.
The name Homo sapiens neanderthalensis was once common when Neanderthals were considered to be members of our own species, Homo sapiens. This view and name are no-longer favoured.
Interbreeding with modern humans?
Groundbreaking analysis of the Neanderthal genome (nuclear DNA and genes) published in 2010 shows that modern humans and Neanderthals did interbreed, although on a very limited scale. Researchers compared the genomes of five modern humans with the Neanderthal, discovering that Europeans and Asians share about 1-4% of their DNA with Neanderthals and Africans none. This suggests that modern humans bred with Neanderthals after moderns left Africa but before they spread to Asia and Europe. The most likely location is the Levant, where both species co-existed for thousands of years at various times between 50-90,000 years ago. Interestingly, the data doesn't support wide-scale interbreeding between the species in Europe, where it would have been most likely given their close proximity. Researchers are now questioning why interbreeding occurred on such a low scale, given that it was biologically possible. The answer may lie in cultural differences.
Sharing Europe with the Denisovians?
Did the Neanderthals also live alongside another human species in Europe? An interesting case making headlines in 2010 was the discovery of a finger bone and tooth from Denisova cave in Russia. The bones were found in 2008 and date to about 30,000-50,000 years old. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was extracted from the remains, and then sequenced. The result was that the mtDNA did not match either modern human or Neanderthal mtDNA.
Little else could be gleaned from these studies so scientists started work on extracting nuclear DNA. This produced far more information. The ⟞nisovians', as they have been nicknamed, were more closely related to Neanderthals than modern humans. This suggests the Neanderthals and ⟞nisovans' shared a common ancestor after modern humans and Neanderthals split. Perhaps this ancestor left Africa half a million years ago with the Neanderthals spreading west to the Near East and Europe while the Denisovans headed east. However, this does not necessarily mean they are a 'new' species as they may be already known from fossils that have no DNA record to compare, such as Homo heidelbergensis or H. antecessor. (See Nature, December 2010)s
Bukovina under Romanian rule
In the formerly Austrian province of Bukovina, Ukrainians constituted two-fifths of the total population but two-thirds in the northern half (in 1931). Following the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy, northern Bukovina was briefly proclaimed part of the Western Ukrainian National Republic, before the entire province was occupied by the Romanian army in November 1918. Under a state of emergency that lasted from 1919 to 1928, Bukovina was subjected to strong assimilationist pressures. Provincial self-government was abolished and the Ukrainian language removed from administrative use. The extensive Ukrainian school system and the university chairs at Chernivtsi were liquidated, and the Ukrainian press and most organizations were banned. Assimilationist measures were relaxed beginning in 1928, but, with the institution of the royal dictatorship of Carol II in 1938, Ukrainian culture was suppressed once again.
The Last Grains of Sand: Acknowledging Climate Change in Earth’s Final Hours
Imagine sitting in front of a large oven. You’ve been told that ovens grow hot and that you will perish if you’re inside. Disbelieving this fact, or understanding and disregarding it, you climb inside and turn the dial. You sit there as things slowly begin to warm up. It would seem, as you were told, that death is a certainty. But you’re not worried. You’ll reach natural death before the oven grows hot enough to burn.
Now i magine carrying your children into the oven with you, and the household cat and dog. Imagine the fatal heat that awaits them after you’ve died comfortably of old age.
Climate change is the leading concern of Earth’s future generations, and yet those who currently hold the reins to steer mankind away from certain disaster are purposely carrying us all into the pyre. Decades of industrial negligence and human gluttony have desecrated nature to the point of collapse, and like all bad habits, they are too ingrained in our worldwide societies to easily curb in time to avoid catastrophe.
Fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are the primary agents of this environmental decline, causing more and more solar energy to be trapped in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the usual gas blamed for this heat imbalance, which is fitting given that there exists more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere today than any time in the past three million years. Other gases, such as methane and water vapor, pose similar threats as emission levels continue to rise. The science behind the cooking of our planet is crystalline, but for all of the damage that greenhouse gases cause, they are merely the consequence of irresponsible environmental policies that the governments of the world continue to permit. Politicians in command of energy infrastructure too often seem swayed to work against environmentally-sound alternatives, and while some beneficial policies have clawed their way into practice, they have not been impactful enough to make much difference at all.
It is most unfortunate that, as this crucial mending period approaches its terminus, the United States has leaders determined to hasten our plight. Donald Trump has stacked the deck against scientists and intelligence agencies fighting to course-correct his administration’s policies, actively barring them from testifying to Congress about the severity of man-made climate change. Suppression of information from the public and legislative bodies is a tune that Trump and his cadre play at every opportunity, and the first note began less than one month after his inauguration. He appointed Scott Pruitt, prominent foe of fossil fuel regulation, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump’s EPA is a travesty dedicated to undermining its own core mission, with Pruitt as its straw man, or as conservation groups dubbed him, “a fox guarding the henhouse.” EPA employees urged senators, in vain, not to confirm Pruitt as their new captain and continued to campaign against him after he was handed his title, and it’s easy to see why. The EPA has deliberately, and illegally, allowed fossil fuel emissions to go unchecked at every available occasion, only shuffling to fulfill its obligations to regulate them when forced. Pruitt finally resigned amid scandal in mid-2018, but even this was only a temporary reprieve from the sabotage. Just recently the EPA announced that Obama-era carbon emission standards were being thrown out the window in an effort to please Trump’s coal industry bedfellows. The deluge of climate vices pouring forth from the Trump administration seems endless, with worldwide corrosion stemming from a cluster of corrupt individuals who lie about it with impunity.
The results of these blind eye policies are already evident. Last year the U.S. Global Change Research Program released a National Climate Assessment describing the doom that awaits the American economy in our climate-ravaged future. It warns that the U.S. could lose hundreds of billions, or roughly 10% of its GDP, by the end of the century due to climate change caused by human activities. Southeastern states may lose a half billion labor hours by 2100 thanks to extreme temperature increases, Midwestern farmers will see significant decreases in their crop yields, and coastal fisherman will see their livelihoods disintegrate due to ocean acidification.
Extreme heat will also cause thousands of premature deaths each year by 2090, with some researchers calling an annual count of 250,000 fatalities a conservative estimate. Foodborne and waterborne illness will become more prevalent, as will allergies and asthma. California will see wildfire damage increase exponentially by 2050. Rising sea levels will cause more damage to U.S. coastal infrastructure and cooler regions will begin to resemble deserts. No American’s life will remain unchanged by this creeping calamity.
At 72 years of age, Donald Trump certainly won’t live long enough to suffer the consequences of his White House’s environmental decisions. Nor does he even care to acknowledge the realities of climate change, regularly calling global warming a hoax. But those in power who discredit climate change science don’t do so out of ignorance there is already ample proof from present day and ages past that verify this threat.
History tells us what drastic climate change can do to humanity. Primitive man had to weather rising global temperatures over 114,000 years ago during the last interglacial period, and it forced the Neanderthals to turn to cannibalism. Their Eurasian ecosystem endured considerable change in the growing heat, which caused a decline in the plants and animals that Neanderthals relied on for food. With their natural resources diminished, they had no choice but to begin eating their own, as evidenced by the chew marks and cuts from stone tools found on their bones by archaeologists.
The climate change that the Neanderthals faced was a natural occurrence, unlike today’s looming crisis. And while cannibalism seems an unlikely fate for modern societies, other severe side effects are developing in surprising ways. Extremism is on the rise in certain parts of the world due to global warming’s effect on their harvests. Regions in Africa and the Middle East are subject to crippling drought, floods, and wildfires, making their inhabitants more likely to join extremist causes in exchange for food and water. Since increased temperatures and reduced rainfall are shrinking crop and livestock sustainability, pastoral populations have little choice but to turn to desperate and often violent solutions. Hunger and poverty create easy targets for radical hate groups like ISIS and Boko Haram to prey upon and swell their ranks. Water and food scarcity also triggers mass migration, which leads to civil unrest and overpopulation.
The impact of man-made climate change on human lives is clearly overwhelming, yet it pales in comparison to the havoc it inflicts on flora and fauna. The United Nations recently released a comprehensive report about climate change’s assault on Earth’s biodiversity and found that, of the nearly 8 million plant and animal species on Earth, up to 1 million species are at risk of extinction, many within the next few decades. More than 40% of amphibians, up to one third of marine mammals, and nearly 33% of coral reefs will be lost. The unprecedented rate that these species are wilting under rising global temperatures and continued habitat contamination is tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been in the last 10 million years. Consequently, if conservation and environmental preservation efforts do not drastically increase, it could take certain mammalian species up to 7 million years to recover their numbers, if at all.
The UN assessment also determined that three quarters of Earth’s land environments and 66% of marine ecosystems have been significantly altered by mankind, often motivated by crop production and resource consumption. The human population has nearly doubled in the last 50 years. We continue to destroy habitats while we consume more and more, and this consumption triggers the other key contributor to the loss of biodiversity — climate change. At the current worldwide estimate of 7.6 billion people, these trends are woefully unsustainable.
Examples of nature’s devastation due to climbing heat can be found in any direction you turn. Tens of thousands of mussels have been cooked alive by heat waves along the Northern California shoreline. There have been increased sightings of polar bears entering buildings and clashing with residents of remote villages along Russia’s Arctic coast. The bears, unable to hunt as widespread at sea due to shrinking sea ice habitats, have been driven into human settlements to search for food.
Ice is rapidly melting elsewhere in the world as well. An iceberg in Antarctica measuring 1,700 square kilometers — twice the size of New York City — will soon break off from the Brunt Ice Shelf along the continent’s northern coast. In another hemisphere, Greenland’s ice sheet has melted so dramatically that nearly 40% of the country has experienced flooding last month 2 billion tons of ice melted in one day alone.
On land, ecosystems aren’t faring much better. Spiking global temperatures are set to obliterate life in some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, including the Amazon rainforest, the Galapagos Islands, and the Miombo Woodlands in Africa. Elephants, marine turtles, and African wild dogs are just some of the notable species that will find their habitats unlivable if the heat continues to rise.
In Australia, the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area is enduring grave temperature surges, and as the oldest rainforest in the world — 80 million years older than the Amazon — it is home to some of the most sacred and ancient forms of life on the planet. These species are now at imminent risk of extinction due to man-made climate change, with many rainforest species already experiencing declines in population. Some rare marsupial species are at risk of vanishing as soon as 2022. One in particular, the lemuroid ringtail possum, is unable to survive a single day in temperatures higher than 29 degrees Celsius, yet the region saw temperatures as high as 39 degrees Celsius six times this past summer.
Spectacled flying foxes have also suffered heavy losses in rolling heat waves. Locals recall seeing droves of the bats toppling from tree branches in 42 degree Celsius weather, with the final tally approaching 23,000 dead, nearly one third of Australia’s population, over the course of two days. 10,000 black flying foxes also died in those 48 hours and other heat waves have had similar results, such as the one that caused over 2,000 grey-headed flying foxes to succumb in a single day.
Even Earth’s giants cannot withstand rising temperatures. Despite living for thousands of years, Africa’s ancient baobab trees are now dying. Of the 13 oldest baobabs found in Southern Africa, nine have died in the past 12 years. The same is true of five of the six largest baobabs. Trees this old have certainly faced severe conditions throughout their enormous lifespans, but researchers believe that this region of Africa is experiencing some of the most rapid warming on the planet. The baobabs simply cannot withstand such immense heat and drought continuously.
Temperature undoubtedly has a hand in the demise of so many species, but others are vanishing as their ecosystems do. Species that are highly specialized in diet and habitat are hit the hardest, unable to cope with drastic and sudden climate change as the environments they evolved to suit are steadily torched. Like polar bears and their sea ice, Bengal tigers rely heavily on specialized habitats like the Sundarbans. This massive mangrove forest provides refuge to the few remaining tigers in the wild, yet rising sea levels are shrinking the available land and fresh water that the tigers need to survive in the mangroves. Global warming, combined with continued poaching, may cause the Bengal tiger to disappear entirely from the Sundarbans within the next 50 years.
The list of casualties seems perpetual. Man-made climate change promises negative consequences for all life on Earth, human and wildlife. For too long we’ve held a pick in one hand, mining more of nature without regard, and in the other we’ve held a scythe over our own heads. Continuing on this toxic path will assure the loss of significant amounts of biodiversity, harming not only the health of the ecosystems we rely on but dramatically impacting our economies, our diets and agriculture, and our own survivability going forward. With roughly one decade to decide the fate of the planet, hope increasingly seems dim.
Only immediate and unanimous change in the way we harvest energy and cultivate land and livestock is going to give life a chance to continue on Earth. This means that those in charge of national policies who are currently failing to fulfill these duties must be cast out at the soonest opportunity, and the public must never allow their ilk to sit at the head of the table again. They must be replaced with leaders that prioritize the welfare of our planet’s future, and thus our own. Currently, America’s notable administrators have no qualms about misleading people from the staggering reality, and when they aren’t telling flagrant lies they do backflips to dodge direct climate questions. Conservative groups increasingly reject climate science to support those that hold their leashes, and this same behavior is seen overseas with corrupt politicians claiming they have a right to mislead the public.
But while their lies are numerous, they are not convincing. Across the world angry voices are calling for their governments to address man-made climate change and enforce environmental safeguards. It began in 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted by nearly every country in the world. Its collective goal is to keep this century’s global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging technological and financial solutions that trend green. It’s the first united effort by the nations of the world to curb pollution in the interest of future generations.
President Barack Obama readily committed the United States to the Paris Agreement, a commitment that Donald Trump wished to sever soon after taking office. Luckily, the U.S. is bound by international law to remain a part of the accord until at least November 2020, right around the same time as the next presidential election. The U.S. and China are the largest carbon dioxide emitters in the world, making America’s inclusion in the accord essential to meeting target temperature regulations. Half of U.S. states remain dedicated to the Paris Agreement in defiance of Trump’s decision, bypassing Washington D.C. to show the world that not all Americans are indifferent to our shared peril.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that most countries in the Paris Agreement are failing to meet emission goals, and hope of making significant change by the 2030 deadline is crumbling. To help ignite change in U.S. legislation, some members of Congress have advocated for the Green New Deal, a progressive proposal to eliminate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by ending our reliance on fossil fuels like coal and oil. Though lacking in concrete details, its goal is to spur reform and transition the economy toward clean energy production and infrastructure. The Green New Deal aims to reduce carbon, ensure clean water and air, and create new job opportunities that would advance economic equity.
Despite the fervor behind the Green New Deal, it has failed to launch in the Republican-held Senate and does not receive support from many old guard Democrats. Criticism of the proposal’s specifics may be warranted, but the need for the Green New Deal or similar economic reform is glaring at this stage of planetary decline. Detractors cry foul over the estimated costs of clean energy mobilization, yet world governments spent over $5 trillion on the subsidization of fossil fuels, an industry that undeniably poisons our environment and our mental and physical health, as recently as 2017.
Many find it difficult to make a dent when pitted against such systems, rooted through decades and strengthened by corruption and belligerence. With time frighteningly short and legislators moving too slowly, if at all, concerned people across the world have taken their anger and despair and used it to incite a dialogue about climate change. Protests have been orchestrated in countries all over the globe, with countless environmental activists of all ages marching in the streets and causing disruptions in an effort to drive their demands for an unspoiled environment and a safer future into the deaf ears of their leaders. They have swamped landmarks and roadways, delayed public transportation, and both harangued and recruited politicians. Over 1,000 people have been arrested in London alone, unafraid of legal ramifications if it means raising awareness.
The amount of children and young adults taking part in these organized protests is especially noteworthy, as it is their generation that will endure the most suffering in the coming decades. Students around the world are walking out of schools and getting involved, unsatisfied with the inaction from their governments regarding the climate crisis they will inherit from their elders. In every state, in every country, on every continent, protests are increasing.
This heightened engagement is heartening, but if those in charge of policy do not listen and act with the same level of urgency, it will matter little. It falls on those with the foresight to change our ways to campaign loudly and forcefully humanity has not historically shown a tendency to make great social change without strain. On an individual level, it can start as simply as changing your diet or reexamining daily routines to positively impact emission levels. On a national level, societies can emulate India’s triumph of planting 66 million trees in 12 hours.
Man-made climate change is the greatest threat before us, and as this is our collective fault, we can find solace in the fact that no one must face it alone. When people unite and muster their energy toward a clear and necessary purpose, wonders are possible. Even the animals that we regularly torment are able to pitch in toward this cause. Whales naturally absorb carbon in our oceans and elephants manage carbon levels in rainforests via grazing. Nature time and again demonstrates its willingness to change, and now mankind, as a part of nature, must make that same effort. This is only possible by removing those in our leadership who would stand in our way.
To willfully condemn ourselves to a disaster of our own making is a great enough crime, but to deliver a death sentence to so many plants and animals at the mercy of our endeavors is unforgivable. How nice it would be if humans preemptively addressed global issues and placed significance on more than wealth, but the present is what it is, and there is now no other choice but to cobble together as many scientific and economic solutions as we can in order to stave off famine and extinction.
We can save ourselves and our planet or remain the architects of our own demise, and unfortunately, that of every other living creature trapped on this planet with us. Time will tell which course we choose, and given how little time is left to act, we will all know soon enough what sort of future awaits us.