The new idea about the Neanderthals is that they had very big eyes, so they had a lot of visual processing equipment which means they had little room for higher order thinking. It’s like eagles. Eagles have enormous eyes and most of their headspace is devoted to visual processing. They can see like demons but they’re lousy conversationalists.
The research team explored the idea that the ancestor of Neanderthals left Africa and had to adapt to the longer, darker nights and murkier days of Europe. The result was that Neanderthals evolved larger eyes and a much larger visual processing area at the backs of their brains.
The humans that stayed in Africa, on the other hand, continued to enjoy bright and beautiful days and so had no need for such an adaption. Instead, these people, our ancestors, evolved their frontal lobes, associated with higher-level thinking, before they spread across the globe.
And now we get music, and the internet, and the Mars Rover.
Don’t start dissing the Neanderthals again though.
Oxford University’s Prof Robin Dunbar, who supervised the study, said that the team wanted to avoid restoring the stereotypical image of Neanderthals.
“They were very, very smart, but not quite in the same league as Homo sapiens,” he told BBC News.
“That difference might have been enough to tip the balance when things were beginning to get tough at the end of the last ice age,” he said.
They weren’t really like eagles. Just not up to putting a rover on Mars.