Art May Be the Secret to How Homo Sapiens' Brains Evolved to Be Smarter Than Neanderthals

Monday, 12 February 2018 - 2:05PM
Monday, 12 February 2018 - 2:05PM
Art May Be the Secret to How Homo Sapiens' Brains Evolved to Be Smarter Than Neanderthals
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Image credit: YouTube
Neanderthals get a pretty bad rap these days—not only have they become synonymous with idiots but apparently, they weren't very good artists, either. According to new research conducted by UC Davis, Neanderthals couldn't draw recognizable images of things, like animals or people, but early homo sapiens could—and that may have meant the difference between survival and extinction.

According to the new study, published in Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, the main method neanderthals used to hunt animals was the thrusting spear, which was effective at close range. It worked fine for a few thousand years, but after Neanderthals left Africa for Eurasia and early humans moved in to hunt the local wildlife, the animals started getting wise.

According to Richard Coss, the lead researcher on the study:

"No explanation has been given for why large animals, such as hippos and Cape buffalo, are so dangerous to humans. Other nonthreatening species foraging near these animals do not trigger alert or aggressive behavior like humans do."

After a half-million years of being hunted down, animals like the cape buffalo, hippo, and zebra started developing a stronger fight-or-flight response to humans and their spears, which meant humans had to get better at throwing them, rather than attacking from closer quarters. This, Coss claims, triggered changes in our early human ancestors: "Homo sapiens developed rounder skulls and grew bigger parietal cortexes—the region of the brain that integrates visual imagery and motor coordination—because of an evolutionary arms race with increasingly wary prey."

The increasingly developed parietal cortexes could explain why homo sapiens could create extremely detailed drawings of animals and other objects, while Neanderthals could not. One of the best examples of homo sapiens' artistic ability is the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, whose walls are covered with vivid charcoal drawings of bison, lions, horses, and reindeer. "Neanderthals could mentally visualize previously seen animals from working memory," Coss says, "but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the coordinated hand-movement patterns required for drawing."

There have been a number of explanations for why the Neanderthals died out, including decimation by disease, inability to cope with the changing climate, and being straight-up hunted to extinction by early humans. At least we can sleep easy knowing they never would have produced a hairy, muscled version of Monet.
Science News