Saturday, March 26, 2005

"Did Use of Free Trade Cause Neanderthal Extinction?"

University of Wyoming economist Jason Shogren and his colleagues Richard Horan of Michigan State University and Erwin Bulte from Tilburg University in the Netherlands believe that Free Trade Caused Neanderthal Extinction?. It truly is a poorly written headline, as (at least to me) it seems to be saying that because Neanderthal's used Free Trade they became extinct. In fact, probably a more correct headline would have been to replace "Did the Use of..." with "Did a lack of..." Anyway, enough quibbling with the headline. My real problem is that it seems that what is being implied by the headline doesn't actually reflect the success story within the, er, story. In short, it was because of Free Trade that homo sapiens thrived while Neanderthal died.
...they argue early modern humans were first to exploit the competitive edge gained from specialization and free trade. With more reliance on free trade, humans increased their activities in culture and technology, while simultaneously out-competing Neanderthals on their joint hunting grounds, the economists say.

Archaeological evidence exists to suggest traveling bands of early humans interacted with each other and that inter-group trading emerged, says Shogren. Early humans, the Aurignations and the Gravettians, imported many raw materials over long ranges and their innovations were widely dispersed. Such exchanges of goods and ideas helped early humans to develop “supergroup social mechanisms.” The long-range interchange among different groups kept both cultures going and generated new cultural explosions, Shogren says.

Anthropologists have noted how judicious redistribution of excess resources provides a distinct advantage to “efficient hunters” as measured by factors such as increased survivorship, social prestige, or reproductive opportunities, the researchers say...

He says the evidence does not support the concept of division of labor and trade among Neanderthals. While Neanderthals probably cooperated with one another to some extent, the evidence does not support the view that specialization arose from any formal division of labor or that inter- or intra-group trade existed, he says. These practices seem to require all the things that Neanderthals lacked: a more complicated social organization, a degree of innovative behavior, forward planning and the exchange of information, ideas and raw materials.

“Basic economic forces of scarcity and relative costs and benefits have played integral roles in shaping societies throughout recorded human history,” Shogren says. “No reason exists today to discount either the presence or potential impact of economics in the pre-historic dawning of humanity.”
I wonder if many Aurignations complained about the outsourcing of spearheads to the Gravettians?

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