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The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived [Kindle Edition]

Clive Finlayson
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Informative. (Ewen Callaway, New Scientist)

A provocative new book. (Sharen Begley, Newsweek)

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Just 28,000 years ago, the blink of an eye in geological time, the last of Neanderthals died out in their last outpost, in caves near Gibraltar. Thanks to cartoons and folk accounts we have a distorted view of these other humans - for that is what they were. We think of them as crude and clumsy and not very bright, easily driven to extinction by the lithe, smart modern humans that came out of Africa some 100,000 years ago.

But was it really as simple as that? Clive Finlayson reminds us that the Neanderthals were another kind of human, and their culture was not so very different from that of our own ancestors. In this book, he presents a wider view of the events that led to the migration of the moderns into Europe, what might have happened during the contact of the two populations, and what finally drove the Neanderthals to extinction. It is a view that considers climate, ecology, and migrations of populations, as
well as culture and interaction.

His conclusion is that the destiny of the Neanderthals and the Moderns was sealed by ecological factors and contingencies. It was a matter of luck that we survived and spread while the Neanderthals dwindled and perished. Had the climate not changed in our favour some 50 million years ago, things would have been very different.

There is much current research interest in Neanderthals, much of it driven by attempts to map some of their DNA. But it's not just a question of studying the DNA. The rise and fall of populations is profoundly moulded by the larger scale forces of climate and ecology. And it is only by taking this wider view that we can fully understand the course of events that led to our survival and their demise. The fact that Neanderthals survived until virtually yesterday makes our relationship with them
and their tragedy even more poignant. They almost made it, after all.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
How refreshing it was to me to read the story of Ice Age humans set against an ecological background. The dying of forests as the cold advanced, and the new provision of mammoth tusks and bones as building material, are just two parts of the everyday life of the humans surviving climate change.

As a professional in this field, I wish there had been more reference points about this: actual dates and locations where the temperature went up and down by 5-10 degrees during the main span of the last ice age, covering the critical period of human movements. Say 70000 to 20000 years ago.

He writes so eloquently about climate change that I could visualise the dying of the conifer forest and appearance of tundra. I wonder for how many years there was dead timber lying around that could have been used for fires. And the coming and going of woodland - I know from my own research that when the temperature climbed to that of the present day, trees didn't necessarily appear. Because they were too far away, and because the dispersal of fruits and seeds by birds would only be fast in landscapes with perches or reasons for the birds to venture outside the trees.

With good radiocarbon dating now available, I can see a detailed map of vegetation, human activity and climate over the planet is ready to be worked in detail. The book inspired me to think about this; about the Denisovan humans in Siberia; about the yeti (which I believe to be a very old folk memory of ice age humans, much as the myth of a great flood turned out to be real despite the thousands of years of the story being passed down generations).
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars And Humans who survived and prospered. 28 Dec. 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was an exciting read that had an element of 'can't put down'.
The author is very good in explaining the politics that lie behind the received wisdom of hominid development and pointing out that the evidence is very scanty and has been worked too hard, often with the intention of placing a new find in direct lineage as an important step towards modern humans. This is a very valid and important revision. His technique of defining habitats and then showing that it is highly likely that humans who lived in a particular habitat would expand to fill all of it across continents is illuminating. The explanation of why Neanderthals went extinct is lucid and compelling, essentially they are overadapted for a woodland ecology and the ice ages destroyed them as their habitat failed. Yet he protests too much that modern man is just luckier than the Neanderthals. In similar rapid change situations described latter modern humans adapt better than Neanderthals and that is not just luck. He does also try to have his cake and eat it. The Neanderthals in Gorham's cave are not living like the hidebound ambush predators he describes earlier.
Similarly the explanation of the modern gracile body developing in the Steppe Tundra region fails to explain why the population left behind in Africa has equally gracile bodies.

I'd have given the book a 5* but for the rubbish chapter at the end. Having talked with great authority about 4 million years Finlayson then quite misunderstands modernity and how it is not like any form of the past. His theory is that conservatives who are highly adapted fail when rapid change occurs whereas 'innovators' living poor lives on the margins adapt better.
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54 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More human than human 9 Dec. 2009
By Bearfax
Format:Hardcover
The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived

This is the best publication I have read on the subject for years in an excellent hard cover publication. An original perspective on early Ice Age humans and their Neanderthal cousins and some quite innovative ideas on why we survived the intolerable Ice age conditions in Eurasia between 20000 to 50000 years ago and possibly why the Neanderthal, a better adapted human for the conditions, didnt. What I liked best was the Jared Diamond style perspective of looking at the human creature from a biological or even Zoological viewpoint without the natural biases regarding the perceived intellectual superiority of modern humans. There is no suggestion here that we had some superiority advantage over our cousins. Rather that good fortune and opportunism gave modern humans an advantage that could have just as easily benefitted Neanderthals, had their circumstances permitted.

I would strongly suggest to anyone wanting to expand their awareness of these poorly understood and under rated people to have a look at this one. Its worth the journey.

Bearfax

An addendum September 2011 given recent discoveries:

Having read some other reviews there is still I believe this concept of superiority many of us have of the modern human creature. I would suggest reading some of Jared Diamonds works to gain balance

The Neandertal people, though genetically different in some ways, suffered as I see it, a similar plight to the Australian Aboriginal people.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Gibraltar Neanderthal Site important
Again, a title which does not exactly explain why they went extinct?! Too much monkey business - WE DID NOT evolve from apes - we have similar DNA but we are a different species... Read more
Published 4 months ago by A. M. Smithwhite
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
NOT VERYWELL WRITTEN
Published 5 months ago by mr a w golding
4.0 out of 5 stars THOUGH-PROVOKING BUT IRRELEVANT FOR HUMAN FUTURES
Avant-Garde Politician: Leaders for a New Epoch

The recent finding that there was mating between Homo sapients and Neanderthals, as proven by the retention of some... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Yehezkel Dror
4.0 out of 5 stars a good read - a bit light on Neanderthals
Easy reading, a lot of interesting detail, well argued. I was actually expecting a bit more the Neanderthals though - we spend a long time building up to them and then a lot of... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Homosoveticus
3.0 out of 5 stars Both fascinating and disappointing
I had high expectations, which have gradually diminished. The English is often quite irritating - poor punctuation such that I found myself having to re-read sentences quite often. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mike D
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for those who want to get to the main issues quickly.
This is in the form of a lengthy and often very repetitive argument. If you want a book that gives a popular and accessible account of the main points of interest rather than a... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mac
4.0 out of 5 stars Are Homo Sapiens mixed breed of proto humans?
The book by Clive Finlayson is a good read but there are some issues to contend with. The Ancestors as he called it are unique and different from proto humans, according to many... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr. Thirdworlder
2.0 out of 5 stars Neanderthal studies as stamp collecting
This book is largely an attack on the author's professional colleagues masquerading as a book for the general reader. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Brunsparken
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste basket material
According to the author Neanderthals vanished just because they did. They were sort of used up. He denies the interaction of the Neanderthaler and Cromagnon. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Thomas Lill Madsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Knowing our progenitors ,the ancestors
What I needed to know to fill gaps and whet further investigation? Provocative and well written..Edifying for all who would look beneath.the surface.
Published 20 months ago by beth slater
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