Series chronicling the survival of Homo sapiens. As the ice caps retreated 35,000 years ago, the Neanderthal stronghold in Europe weakened, providing an opportunity.
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This is our world.
We have shaped it in our image.
Made it our own.
We are now the only humans in existence,
absolute rulers of the earth.
But there was a time when we shared this planet with other,
very different types of human.
By the time our ancestors left Africa around 100,000 years ago,
most of these "others" had gone extinct.
But not all.
Other species had made the journey out of Africa before us.
Smart, strong and well adapted to their environment,
they were the dominant species on the planet.
So what happened when our worlds collided?
Why, despite all their advantages,
were those others driven to extinction?
Why, against the odds, did we win the battle for Planet Earth?
32,000 years ago,
a new species of human was spreading out across Europe.
The colour of their skin betrayed their African origins.
Homo sapiens hadn't been here very long,
and there weren't very many of them.
These people were modern humans.
They were our ancestors.
As they spread out through the continent, they entered
the territory of another human species - the Neanderthals.
The way Neanderthals are treated in the popular media is very unfair.
I mean, they were highly evolved humans,
in their own way as evolved as we are.
There's no other event in human evolution
that captures the public imagination like the encounters
between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.
Using the latest archaeological and scientific research,
what follows is a dramatisation
of one of the most crucial periods in human history.
-Jala threw first.
Jala is young.
32,000 years ago, in what's now modern-day Europe,
the Homo sapiens population hovered at just about 10,000 people.
They were struggling to survive because of climate change.
Temperatures were fluctuating wildly,
four to five degrees Celsius every 150 years,
going from warm to cold and back to warm again.
The consequences were catastrophic.
Environments may have fluctuated between more open
grassland environments and more forested environments.
So this would have changed as the climate
got warmer and colder.
These dramatic shifts between grassland and forests
would have made life extremely difficult for animals...
and the humans that preyed on them.
For big mammals like Homo sapiens and Neanderthals,
the way they deal with rapid climate change is to move.
So rapid shifts in climate would probably have bring...
have brought Homo sapiens and Neanderthals in closer contact.
-Let Jala throw.
We need to eat!
Do not miss.
We need food.
-I want to help.
-You cannot throw a spear!
-Teach me, Father!
Jala, take your sister home.
You have the mother.
-Give it to me.
My mother gave this to your mother.
It brought your brother, Jala.
It brought you.
your mother, Byana.
Archaeologists believe that these objects were fertility symbols.
Although some playfully suggest
that they may have pornographic overtones.
They have been found at sites all across Europe.
By the time we get to 40 or 50 thousand years ago,
modern humans are certainly using symbols to communicate with each other
and transmitting information between people, even between generations,
so it's becoming very important for modern humans.
When we find these things carved out of ivory,
the hardest substance in a mammalian skeleton, that tells you
that the symbols are really, really important. Something like this
carved out of ivory would take hundreds and hundreds of hours.
That's hundreds and hundreds of hours taken away from some other important activity,
like raising the kids or hunting or these sorts of things.
A shared belief in the importance in objects like this
can help to bind people together.
And in hard times that's just as important a survival tool
as a sharp spear.
See, now you.
You throw straight,
but I cannot teach strength.
Come on, home.
Look at this.
A man's foot.
A big man's foot.
A big man's foot.
Come, we must go, back to Father.
What, a man has big feet and you want to turn back?
Don't you want to go hunting?
The ancestors of Neanderthals, like every other human species,
evolved in Africa, but they quickly moved out and into Europe
and they'd been living there for nearly half a million years.
There was one very obvious physical difference between us and them -
This is a cast of a Neanderthal femur, thigh bone, and you can see
just by comparing it to a recent human thigh bone
some pretty clear and obvious differences.
The Neanderthal thigh bone is massive. It's huge...
that tells you that these were big, strong people.
Bone grows in response to strain - the more you strain bone, the more it grows.
These were people who solved problems with brute force.
Doesn't mean they're stupid, but it means that they're using brute force intelligently.
That physical power was complemented by another vital asset.
The brain volume of Neanderthals and humans is very similar,
in fact Neanderthal average brain sizes are somewhat larger than modern humans today.
So as well as having considerably larger bodies, Neanderthals also had
significantly larger brains, and that made them a formidable enemy.
The popular image of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens
bumping into one another is that the Neanderthals were a pushover,
that Homo sapiens waltzed in and kicked the Neanderthals out without a contest.
That's extremely unlikely.
Neanderthals are big people, strong people, smart people,
and in much of Europe and western Asia they had home court advantage.
The day this mother brought me to the world,
it brought death to our mother.
Hold her tight - she'll protect you. TWIG SNAPS
Who are they?
Neanderthals were originally dark-skinned,
but over hundreds of thousands of years their skin colour
had become lighter in the colder, darker climate of Europe.
But white skin was an obvious disadvantage on the hunt.
Neanderthals may have painted themselves, you know, with black stripes for camouflage
like many hunters do nowadays, or soldiers do when they're in combat,
they paint themselves with camouflage to break up
the appearance of their bodies, so they don't...
They're not as easily perceived by an enemy or a predator.
Camouflaged bodies allowed them to get much closer to their unsuspecting prey.
Rather than throwing projectiles they used their bodies as weapons,
so a Neanderthal attack on its prey would involve
a quick charge and then trying to knock the animal to the ground.
Kind of like, this is the way, you know, lions and other predators hunt.
They spring from ambush, they grab their prey,
they knock it to the ground and then they kill it.
But that hunting strategy was risky and extremely dangerous.
Neanderthals have a lot of injuries on their skeletons.
They do have a lot of healed fractures
and marks of trauma, head injuries and so on.
So life was certainly dangerous for these people,
and it's been argued that this injury pattern in modern humans,
in modern athletes at least, is most closely matched by rodeo riders.
So these are people who are having to get close in to dangerous wild animals.
Araha. Doh, doh labah!
Experts believe that Neanderthals had unusually good eyesight.
This is because the area at the back of the skull
where the brain's visual senses are located
is bigger in Neanderthals than Homo sapiens.
In the murky gloom of the forest,
that may have given them a significant advantage.
-I've dropped the mother.
-Byana. I'll go...run!
It wasn't just their bodies that the Neanderthals used as weapons.
They'd also developed an equally lethal technology - the spear.
This stone-tipped spear is the kind of spear that Neanderthals made.
It's big, it's heavy, it's attached to a massive shaft
in order to resist bending. It's a thrusting spear. Throwing this is like throwing a brick -
it's not going to go very far, it's going to drop very, very quickly.
This spear was designed for maximum killing power at close quarters.
Now, you can see the kind of wound this creates.
A huge gash, enormous gash in the animal's skin.
This point is enormous.
Once it's inside there, it's causing all kinds of damage,
but the advantage of a spear like this with a thick shaft and a broad blade
is that when it's inside the animal and the animal's trying to fight and get away,
if you're really strong and you hold onto this thing, it's not going any place.
The trick is you just can't let go of the spear.
A weapon like this works only if you're very, very strong.
It's not a throwing weapon.
These spears, the ones made by Homo sapiens,
are made to be thrown. They're projectile weapons.
The stone points are narrow and thin so they maximize impact.
Unlike the Neanderthal spear,
in the right hands this weapon could kill at a distance.
You see, it's left a very cylindrical hole.
And it's hit right in the heart and lung area,
so this is the kind of wound that would kill almost instantly.
If not instantly, then again it would bleed out and you'd be able to track it fairly straightforwardly.
The key advantage of a weapon like this
is that it is cylindrical, it has a very narrow cross-section,
so all the energy of this spear,
all the force that's behind it is concentrated onto a small area,
which means when it hits, it hits with a lot of power.
It doesn't slash and cut like the Neanderthal spear,
it hits like a bullet does, it kills by shock.
Survival is dependent on more than just brute strength and powerful weapons.
Communication skills are also a vital element in the struggle to stay alive.
And our ancestors were better equipped with these than any other human species.
They should be back.
Where could they be?
Byana! Where have you been?
Where is Jala?
Where is he?
-A wild cat?
Like us...but bigger!
What is wrong with you?
If it is wolves, say wolves,
if it is a cat, say cat.
Get the men ready.
We must find Jala.
-Are you sure he's alive?
-To bury him!
Whatever killed him will eat him.
-No, but we have...
He's my son!
We need food.
There are no monsters out there,
but there are wild cats,
We have lost one young hunter.
We cannot lose any more.
32,000 years ago, our ancestors came up with another crucial invention
which helped to ensure our survival.
It was something that archaeologists think Neanderthals never developed -
It meant that we could make close-fitting and warm clothing,
essential for hunting in the ever-changing climate.
Why can't we hunt?
-Men do the hunting.
What are you doing?
Not this way...
Do it this way.
If we all hunt, we'll get more food.
this way, that way.
A man hunts...a woman stays.
You can't hunt with a baby inside you or in your arms,
or holding onto your leg.
-But I don't have a baby.
Dividing up tasks between men and women
was vital to our species' survival.
If the men didn't kill anything on the hunt, the nuts, berries
and roots that the women gathered provided a reliable source of food.
It might not seem revolutionary, but this simple exchange
between men and women would end up transforming our world.
The invention of the sexual division of labour
got us into the habit of specialisation and exchange -
"you do this, I'll do that and we'll swap."
Once we'd invented it between the sexes,
we could then think about doing it between individuals
and we could then think about doing it between bands.
So you could say, "You guys are good at fishing we're good at gathering fruit, we'll swap."
Or, "You're good at making spears, I'm good at making axes,
"I'll make all the axes, you make all the spears and we'll swap."
And of course the beauty of that system is the more you specialise,
the better you get at your specialised task.
so the more value there is, the more time-saving there is
in delegating tasks to others and swapping and specialising in this way.
That's actually the whole story of human history ever since, that's what prosperity is.
Where are the others?
We had a bad winter.
And many died.
We are hungry.
-Not on the plains.
But they will return.
They always do.
The animals are moving.
If the animals move, we must move.
Follow the food.
It will mean moving camp.
-We should wait.
-We waited too long.
Why is it like this?
Always you ask why, Byana.
For the spear...
they go together?
like man and woman.
She has just lost a brother.
Do you want to lose a husband?
She will bring you many children, many.
No. I won't.
..your men, my men,
we are stronger.
Tomorrow we move to a new camp.
Two tribes, together stronger.
In the struggle for survival, numbers mattered.
Forging alliances allowed Homo sapiens' villages to grow,
accommodating up to 150 people.
Neanderthal villages were much smaller,
rarely getting bigger than family groups of 10 to 15 individuals.
We've got to imagine that Neanderthals were maybe living
on average in smaller groups than we were,
and of course what we've got with modern humans
is that we map relationships in different ways.
Neanderthals probably operated mainly on person-to-person contact,
So their interactions were direct with each other.
With modern humans, we have much more complex social systems,
and there's no doubt that modern humans, when we communicate with each other,
a lot of it is done symbolically. We exchange information, we trade objects.
We know that modern humans in Europe were moving objects
across the continent over much bigger areas than Neanderthals did.
So with modern humans, our networks reach much further in time and space.
The spear-thrower was a simple device
that allowed spears to be thrown further and with more power.
Developed 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, it was such an effective weapon
that Native Americans were still using a version of it right up until the 16th century.
In the right hands, this piece of technology isn't just powerful,
but deadly accurate.
As you can see, another bullet-shaped wound right in the heart and lung area.
If this was a person, they'd be in a lot of trouble.
This would knock them off their feet, pin them to the ground, pin them to a tree.
This would be a very dangerous wound, a wound that would probably kill somebody outright.
This is a tremendous change from earlier weapon systems.
This is a weapons system that swaps speed for power.
By moving the projectile point very, very fast,
it tremendously increases the amount of kinetic energy, of force
that one can bring to bear. A hand-thrown spear doesn't even approach this.
This weapon was so effective that it spread like wildfire.
A development that might not seem particularly special,
but it was unique to our species.
What's wonderful about a spear thrower is that it's a brilliant idea and a simple idea,
but it's not an idea that would necessarily occur to someone.
But on a rare occasion, somewhere by accident, through serendipity,
somebody works out that actually you can speed up the power of a spear.
If that happens in a Neanderthal troop
it stays in the troop, the idea.
The idea never leaves the troop. You don't get a transfer of ideas
between bands, between tribes, in the way you do with modern humans.
Whereas what happened with this idea is that it started spreading like a virus, through contact,
through trade between people, and suddenly it's everywhere.
If there was a case where people armed with weapons like this
went up against people who lacked them or equivalent technology,
the people who lacked this kind of technology wouldn't stand a chance.
Where has she gone?
She makes you look foolish, she makes me look foolish.
She will come back.
-And my men will be gone.
One more day...please.
-We must follow the food.
-Together we are stronger!
Then find her.
let's go hunting.
There were cave lions in Europe at this time.
A separate species from their African cousins,
they were 10% bigger.
Europe at this time was populated by large numbers
of now extinct animals which have modern African counterparts.
The mammoth was a cousin of the elephant.
And the woolly rhino was a much hairier version of the African species.
As the climate fluctuated,
these large animals were forced to move, leaving behind
some much more dangerous carnivores...
like wolves, which are still around Europe today,
and the sabre-toothed cat which is now extinct.
She's a fool,
like her father.
Scientists believe that Neanderthals, like us, had language.
They've discovered that we share a specific gene with Neanderthals
that's vital for developing an ability to speak.
There's also some compelling anatomical evidence that indicates that they could talk.
This early Homo sapiens skull is shaped very much like yours or mine.
This means this individual could speak more or less like I'm doing.
It had a very flexed upper respiratory tract.
That allows one's tongue to move back and forth very rapidly and breaks sound up,
like I'm doing now. But there's a risk involved in that.
The risk is that it's easy to choke as food particles make their way around that turn.
They caught behind the tongue and the back of the windpipe and people choke every day.
That's an unusual thing in primate evolution.
Most primates, most mammals, have a relatively less flexed upper respiratory tract,
and that's what we see with these Neanderthals.
Their face is out in front of their brain,
the bottom of their skull is less flexed, and in all likelihood,
their upper respiratory tract made a more gentle curve.
Now, that's advantageous if you want to get food in there fast and eat efficiently,
but it's disadvantageous in terms of speech.
It means they probably didn't speak as rapidly as our ancestors did.
TWIG SNAPS What was that?
There is nothing to fear...
Why didn't you kill him?
-You want to hunt...
but you cannot kill.
-He saved me from the wildcat.
-Where is it now?
Where it died.
In the fight for survival, Homo sapiens had another significant advantage over Neanderthals.
To fuel their bigger bodies, Neanderthals had to eat
twice as much as Homo sapiens on a daily basis.
It's true that if you've got a big body and a big brain,
you've got to have the energy to keep that going.
And there's no doubt that this very heavy body of Neanderthals,
and that muscle mass and that large brain,
all of that is going to require a regular input of food to get them through,
and in a sense, this might have made them more vulnerable
if resources were fluctuating, if there were competing human groups -
maybe modern humans competing with them -
who were a bit more efficient at extracting material from the environment
and less demanding of the environment,
possibly modern humans might have had the edge in a competition in that way.
Neanderthals cared for their sick and injured.
Archaeologists have uncovered skeletal remains which show
that a Neanderthal man with a withered arm
was cared for for as long as 20 years.
It shows us that Neanderthals cared about each other. And this extended
not just on a day-to-day basis, but over months and years.
That this individual had presumably family that cared about him
and they were regularly provisioning and supporting him
through what must have been very difficult times.
The fact that he survived these injuries in the first place
and then survived for some time afterwards, when people must have been bringing him food
right through the year for him to survive and carry on living
and for these injuries to heal to the extent they did.
What is it?
This is the place.
Are you sure?
So where's the cat?
No, we turn back.
Tomorrow we leave and follow the food.
-The monsters will follow and take our food.
-They aren't monsters.
Where are the others?
They're all dead.
They'll kill us all.
We must hunt them down...
or they will hunt for us.
They're not monsters,
they're like us.
Tell us again what they did to your brother.
The outcome of any physical conflict between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens
wouldn't have been a foregone conclusion.
There were advantages and disadvantages on both sides.
For Neanderthals, the principal advantages would have been
in close quarters combat, getting in close and fighting hand to hand.
In terms of the strength difference, Neanderthals would probably win.
For Homo sapiens, taking on a Neanderthal opponent,
the trick is, don't let them get close.
Stand off, attack with projectile weapons.
Find a way to flank them, attack from this and this direction simultaneously,
so they're hitting at least two directions at the same time.
Take your men that way.
You, the other side.
The rest will follow me.
Wait for my signal.
These are monsters, not horses.
Run! Turn back!
We can't win close up, we need room to throw the spears.
Come on, let's get to higher ground.
What is it?
It's another one.
Always Byana, I say one thing, you do another.
It is not too bad. Don't worry.
Tomorrow, Byana, we'll give you to him.
She does not want to be a wife.
Come, Byana, eat.
Neanderthals had dominated Europe for nearly half a million years.
But from the moment our ancestors entered the continent,
their days were numbered.
The differences between us and them weren't huge, but they mattered.
Within a few thousand years, Neanderthal numbers slumped into a terminal decline.
They ended up being squeezed into one small corner of Europe.
The last known refuge of the Neanderthals was here in Gibraltar.
They lived their final years in these caves.
Archaeologists believe the last Neanderthal died out
around 24,000 years ago.
As a scientist, one can't help but wish that Neanderthals were still around.
It would be wonderful.
We'd learn so much from them, because they are, as it were, the other human species.
They're our close...
they would be our closest relative in the animal kingdom.
We'd learn about things like language,
because they probably had language but a different kind of language.
We'd learn what's special about us,
some things we think are special about us would turn out not to be, they'd have them too.
Other things that we don't realise are special about us would come home.
They show us a different way to be human, and I think that's...
You know, it's a separate evolutionary path
that went its own way, shared much of our own evolutionary history,
shared many features with us, but also developed their own distinctive features
and went their own way, with their own ways of adapting, their own ways of coping with the environment.
So they're a fascinating experiment in how to be a human being.
Evolution involves extinction. Extinction is a part of evolution.
Neanderthals became extinct.
They're gone. They're fascinating, but they're gone.
At some point in the remote future, some other documentary will examine
the question of poor old Homo sapiens, and what did them in.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
This episode is set 35,000 years ago and depicts Homo sapiens's encounter with Homo neanderthalensis. As the ice caps retreated, the Neanderthal stronghold in Europe weakened, providing a window of opportunity to which modern humans owe their existence.