Why did we prevail? A panel of experts discussed their latest interpretations of genetic and fossil evidence Saturday (June 2), at the fifth annual World Science Festival in New York. Humanity's success, they said, appears to be a "revenge of the nerds" story of global proportions.
First, although Neanderthals had as big a brain as anyone, the shapes of their fossilized skulls indicate humans had slightly larger frontal lobes, said Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London. That brain region controls decision-making, social behavior, and such uniquely human tendencies as creativity and abstract thought. Meanwhile, Neanderthals were broader and stronger than us, with especially powerful upper bodies, and their robustness made them better adapted to Europe's cold climate. "In a sense, we're wimps," Stringer said. "Physically, we didn't have any advantage over the Neanderthals - quite the opposite."
This would suggest brains won out over brawn, and that rather than destroying our enemies in some epic battle, our ancestors may simply have been savvier survivors, steadily growing our numbers while our burlier brethren met their demise.