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   The Neanderthal - Homo sapiens Replacement Event

In the present age of rapid advances in science, we are often dazzled by novelty, tending to focus our attention on practical, usable scientific developments and technological advancements. However, there are more reasons for modern humans' intellectual pursuits than simply achieving convenience in our everyday lives. One of our more abstract goals, to learn about the varied forms of existence we humans have experienced during our evolution, has longstanding importance: important clues to an understanding of our future may lie hidden in our past.
What are we? Various approaches to this question come to mind. One is to investigate, through the numerous fossils of now-extinct hominids, how those hominids lived their lives. This should afford us some understanding of the paths by which we have come to be who we are today. Among those fossil hominids, there is much to be learned from the Neanderthals in particular, since they were the last humanoid species on Earth before modern man took over. We cannot discuss what we are today without taking the Neanderthals' existence into consideration.

In any discussion of the relationship between the Neanderthals and us modern humans, we must not forget the drama of replacement: in the distant past the future of the two populations was decided. In the end, the Neanderthals disappeared as an independent archaic species, while our ancestors, modern Homo sapiens, survived, eventually dominating the entire Earth. What actually took place in that relatively recent replacement drama, and what was it that in the end decided the fates of the two populations? These are the greatest mysteries remaining in the discussion of the origin of modern humans.

In this research, we set out to interpret Neanderthal-homo sapiens replacement drama as the replacement of a society which failed to resolve issues of strategic importance to their existence by a society which succeeded in doing so. To that end, we will investigate the differences between these two societies from the perspectives of learning capacity and learned behaviors. We will then work to empirically validate the working hypothesis (referred to here as the "learning hypothesis") that the truth behind the replacement drama lies in the difference in learning capacity between the archaic humans and the modern.

Specifically, we will empirically test the learning hypothesis by organizing a collaborative research project involving experts from a wide spectrum of disciplines: the humanities, biology, and science and engineering, for the pursuit of the following goals: (1) to establish that differences existed in learning capacity and learned behaviors between archaic and modern humans; (2) to establish that these differences were the result of human evolution; and (3) to demonstrate that the presence of those differences is a reflection of the observable difference in the configurations of the neural basis in the brains of the two populations. Comprehensively, we aim to construct a new learning capacity oriented empirical model that reveals the forms of existence experienced by mankind in our evolutionary process.

   Objective of the Research

In this research, we set out to interpret the replacement drama, which began in Africa with the emergence of modern Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago and progressively advanced throughout the world, as the replacement of a society that failed to resolve issues of strategic importance to their existence by a society that succeeded in doing so. We will investigate the differences between the two societies from the perspective of learning capacity and learned behaviors, and will then work to empirically validate the working hypothesis (referred to here as the "learning hypothesis") that the replacement occurred as a result of the difference in learning capacity between archaic and modern humans, and that the social and cultural divides caused by this difference determined the outcome.

Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Hyumans/Project Overview
The learning hypothesis is significant in that that it seeks the truth concerning the replacement in qualitative differences in learning capacity, and not in quantitative differences in the capacity to adapt to changes in external conditions. This qualitative difference is reflected in the prehistoric record: the archaic Neanderthal society protected their traditional culture, while the modern Homo sapiens society created new cultures in response to the same changes in external conditions. The two societies came into conflict , and the wide social and cultural divide ultimately determined the outcome.

The central goal of this research is to verify the learning hypothesis. Specifically, we will conduct the following studies within an interdisciplinary research framework based on new perspectives and methods brought forward by researchers from the humanities, biology, and science and engineering.
(1) Empirically demonstrate that differences existed between archaic and modern humans in terms of learning capacity and learned behaviors
(2) Theoretically deduce and empirically demonstrate the circumstances that led to the Neanderthal-homo sapiens differences in learning capacity and learned behaviors

(3) Establish that differences in learning capacity and learned behaviors existed between archaic and modern humans, by providing anatomical proof of differences in the configuration of the neural basis in the brains of the two populations
The overarching aim of the research is to interconnect the results of research foci (1) to (3) above, and to comprehensively test the learning hypothesis through organic connections amongst the findings. We will furthermore attempt to discern, from the perspective of learning capacity, how and under what circumstances modern Homo sapiens acquired their unique high intelligence and modern behavioral patterns. We aim to establish a new empirical evolution model that will afford a broad view of the kinds of existence mankind went through during its evolution.

   Academic Background of the Research

Knowledge about the paths of human evolution has expanded dramatically as a result of advancements in genetic studies in the latter half of the 20th century. One excellent example of this advancement is the settlement of the issue of the origin of modern humans, which had been a highly controversial issue throughout scientific history, along with the issue of the origin of man. As a result, the idea that modern Homo Sapiens are direct related genealogically to archaic humans (i.e., that modern humans evolved from archaic humans) was rejected, and the "Out of Africa" theory (Cann et al. 1987; Krings et al. 1997, 2000), which is now the accepted evolutionary model, was born. According to this model, all modern humans have a single common origin in Africa 200,000 years ago. However, this resolution only gave rise to a flurry of new questions, one of which is the issue of the drama of the replacement of the archaic Neanderthals by modern Homo sapiens. What determined their fates? This question has been hotly debated among archaeologists, anthropologists, and geneticists around the world, and is currently seen as the greatest remaining mystery in the discussion of the origin of modern man.

In recent years, a number of hypothetical models of the causes of the replacement were published, and are now being put to empirical test. They include the following: The "Environment Theory," which attributes the replacement to inter-population differences in the ability to adapt to the surrounding natural and social conditions during the replacement period(200,000 years ago in Africa, 100,000 years ago in the Middle East, and 40,000 years ago in Europe) (van Andel, Davies eds. 2003; van Andel, Davies, Weninger 2003; Finlayson, Carrion 2008; Stringeret al. 2008); the "Survival Strategy Theory," which regards the inter-population differences in technical, economic, social and other systems as causes of the replacement (Adler et al. 2008; Joris, Adler 2008; Shea 2007, 2008); the "Livelihood Theory," which emphasizes the difference between the livelihood strategies of the two populations (Bocherens et al. 2001, 2005; Pettitt et al. 2000, 2003; Richards, Trinkaus 2009); the "Nerve Theory," which focuses on the language function, or the lack thereof, as the cause of the replacement (Klein 1998; Klein, Edgar 2002); and the "Mixed Blood Theory," which assumes that interbreeding took place between the two populations (Duarte et al. 1999; Zihao, d'Errico 1999).

The above theories and the studies which generated them all contributed to the steady accumulation of data supporting the occurrence of the replacement. They determined when, where, and how the replacement progressed, and from diverse angles provided an outline of the mutual influences between the archaic society and the modern society. Indeed, the description of the replacement drama has grown ever more articulate. However, almost all past studies examined cases from the Eurasian continent, and as yet no global-scale universal explanatory model has appeared. This research therefore aims to describe the entire replacement process, which began in Africa and progressed throughout the Eurasian continent, in a comprehensive manner, and to clarify the causes from an overarching perspective.

   Characteristics of the Research

In order to attain its overall goal, this research creates an entirely new research paradigm involving interdisciplinary collaboration, new perspectives and methods brought forward by researchers from the humanities, biology, and science and engineering. Standard practice until now has been to carry such target research forward in a segmented manner in separate disciplines such as archaeology, fossil anthropology, and genetics. However, this project takes the novel approach of broad collaboration involving cultural anthropology, genetic psychology, biomechanics, precision machine engineering, brain science, paleoneurology and other fields. Moreover, instead of simply bringing these disciplines together under a mechanistic framework, we will coordinate and interact to develop working theories in each research domain, using the topic as an organic connection among disciplines to verify the learning hypothesis from a comprehensive perspective. This type of approach has no precedent in previous studies of the replacement drama; it is likely not only to impact on future studies in this area, but also to generate significant spillover effects as a model for interdisciplinary research.

Learning capacity is the basis of cultural evolution and supports man's prosperity in today's living world. This research offers a unique approach to the study of man's learning capacity and learning behaviors, in that we will (1) seek an understanding of evolution based on physical evidence rooted in archaeological materials; (2) generate descriptions and assessments of actual practice through field studies on extant hunter-gatherer societies; and (3) organically link the above two approaches in an attempt to comprehensively characterize man's learning behavior. This research also aims to arrive at an understanding of the actual conditions of the distinctly human learning behavior, "learning while playing and creating through playing," as well as the social and natural environments and brain functions that support this behavior. Thus, in terms of learning and educational environments in real communities, this research has great social significance in that it will lay a foundation for the study of present and future issues regarding learning and education. Although the research results will not be sufficient to establish practical responses to real-life issues, the elucidation of a realistic picture of the evolution of learning behaviors and teaching methods is expected to have a ripple effect, affording us a clearer understanding of our current conditions and a foundation for futuristic work.

In this research project, historical materials relevant to the research will necessarily be perceived, interpreted, and studied in a manner reaching beyond the confines of conventional practices; this interdisciplinary collaboration will lead to the generation of a new research area. For example, the research is expected to (1) initiate new archaeological research that will elevate the significance of archaeological materials from mere sources of basic historical reference to materials for the reconstruction of the reality of behavioral evolution and the learned behavior of man; (2) cultivate high-precision fossil restoration research grounded in scientific procedures based on fossil restoration tasks that have until now been implemented on an arbitrary basis; (3) apply engineering knowledge to various humanities work to produce new scientific knowledge and to stimulate humanities studies to create even more objective and universal values; and (4) chart a course toward the establishment of a new empirical model of human evolution through the creation of a new knowledge system that brings together the traditional expertise of the individual sciences and the knowledge accumulated in brain science and other advanced sciences. Through the achievement of the above effects, we will ultimately contribute to the fostering of a new type of young researchers able to lead next generation science and society.


organization B01 B02 A01 A02 C01 C02

   Research Organization

Project Leader
  • Takeru Akazawa, Professor,
    Anthropology, Research Institute, Kochi University of Technology, Kochi, Japan
  • Hirohisa Mori, Associate Professor,
    Information Science, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto
  • Yuzo Marukawa, Associate Professor,
    Information Science, Research Center for Informatics of Association, National Institute of Informatics
  • Yoshifumi Nakamura, Assistant Professor,
    Information Science, Research Center for Informatics of Association, National Institute of Informatics
  • Yoshihiro Nishiaki, Professor,
    Archaeology, The University Museum, University of Tokyo
  • Hideaki Terashima, Professor,
    Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, Kobe Gakuin University, Kobe
  • Kenichi Aoki, Professor,
    Population Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Sciences, University of Tokyo
  • Minoru Yoneda, Associate Professor,
    Chronology, Graduate School of Integrated Biosciences, University of Tokyo
  • Naomichi Ogihara, Associate Professor,
    Biomechanics, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Keio University
  • Hiroki C. Tanabe, Associate Professor,
    Neuroscience, Department of Cerebral Research, National Institute for Physiological Sciences
  • Shunichi Amari, Professor,
    Neuroscience, Senior advisor, Laboratory for Mathematical Neuroscience, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan
  • Shiro Ishii, Professor,
    Senior advisor, Neuroscience, Research Center for Science Systems, Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences, Tokyo, Japan
  • Tasuku Kimura, President and Professor,
    Anthropology, Ishikawa Prefectural Nursing University, Japan
Overseas Advisors
  • Ofer Bar-Yosef, Professor,
    Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
  • Ralph L. Holloway, Professor,
    Fossil Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA

Research Project on Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans: Testing Evolutionary Models of Learning
Supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, ports, Science & Technology Japan
Project Office: Kouchi University of Technology,CIC Tokyo 302/ 3-3-6 Shibaura, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Zip:108-0023;
TEL: +81-(0)3-5440-9039 FAX: +81-(0)3-5440-9119 Contact: koutaigeki@gmail.com;
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