Neanderthals and biologically modern humans represent two fascinating case studies in parallel evolutionary experiments. Descended from a common ancestor, they evolved independently for hundreds of thousands of years, during which time some physical differences had developed and a large degree of cultural evolution had occurred. With their large brains and complex behavioral and cultural adaptations, humans and Neanderthals created two distinct avenues for evolutionary change. A new special issue of Current Anthropology examines these separate but corresponding evolutionary courses, from multiple angles.
The most recent installment of the Wenner-Gren Symposium Series, Alternative Pathways to Complexity: Evolutionary Trajectories in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age, features fifteen articles, plus an editors’ introduction and a note from Leslie Aiello, President of the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The issue is cross-disciplinary in nature, featuring contributions from archaeologists researching material culture and subsistence; physical anthropologists; a demographer; a geneticist; modelers of cultural evolution; and a climatologist.
The papers included in this supplement help to inform our understanding of why Neanderthals went extinct while modern humans flourished, and, just as importantly, provide a more nuanced look at the elaborate and unique adaptive systems these sophisticated hominins developed. As a collection, these articles explore the hypothesis that modern human behavior did not evolve in a straight line, but that there may actually have been multiple evolutionary trends occurring simultaneously. Answering these questions definitively goes beyond the scope of this supplement, but the scholarship included suggest that we have the scientific tools to research these evolutionary models more thoroughly.
The articles in this special issue “provide an assessment of state-of-the-art knowledge in the Middle Paleolithic of Eurasia as well as the Middle Stone Age in Africa, along with relevant paleoclimatological, genetic, demographic, and biological perspectives” writes Leslie Aiello. “This collection is destined to be an important resource for the future.”
The special issue is the 145th symposium in the Wenner-Gren Symposium Series and the eighth to be published as an open-access supplement of Current Anthropology.
“Alternative Pathways to Complexity: Evolutionary Trajectories in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age” in Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplement 8, eds. Steven L. Kuhn and Erella Hovers. Current Anthropology 54:S8. December 2013.
is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. The journal is published by The University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. For more information, please see our website: journals.uchicago.edu/CA.