Survival of the…Traders?

An interesting new theory states that modern humans won the selection battle against neanderthals because we traded.

One theory is that Homo sapiens had more sophisticated tools, which gave him an advantage in hunting or warfare. Another is that the modern human capacity for symbolic thinking (manifest at that time in the form of cave paintings and carved animal figurines) provided an edge. Symbolic thinking might have led to more sophisticated language and better co-operation. But according to Dr Shogren's paper in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, it was neither cave paintings nor better spear points that led to Homo sapiens's dominance. It was a better economic system.

One thing Homo sapiens does that Homo neanderthalensis shows no sign of having done is trade. The evidence suggests that such trade was going on even 40,000 years ago. Stone tools made of non-local materials, and sea-shell jewellery found far from the coast, are witnesses to long-distance exchanges. That Homo sapiens also practised division of labour and specialisation is suggested not only by the skilled nature of his craft work, but also by the fact that his dwellings had spaces apparently set aside for different uses.

The neanderthals should have staged protests for fair trade.