Division of Labor Points to Important Differences between Humans and Neanderthals
A few days before Father’s Day, I saw an ad for Father’s Day gifts under $25. What! Under $25! You would never see an ad for Mothers Day gifts under $25. In fact, it would border on sacrilege to even consider spending less than $25 on your mother.
Mothers and fathers just aren’t the same. This is probably because they play different roles in our lives.
Anthropologists refer to the different activities of males and females as division of labor. These scientists view this specialization between males and females, and juveniles and adults as a defining feature of modern humans. This behavior promotes robust human economies and allows humans to survive—in fact thrive—in diverse environments.
Evolutionary biologists seek to account for division of labor in modern humans. When did this behavior emerge? Did the hominids that preceded modern humans in the fossil record display this behavior?
From an evolutionary standpoint, division of labor should emerge gradually. The behavior and activities of hominids should increasingly overlap through time with those of modern humans.
RTB’s human origins model—detailed in Who Was Adam?—predicts, however, that behaviors like the division of labor should appear suddenly and be unique to modern humans.
RTBâ€™s Model and the Hominids
RTB’s biblical creation model views the hominids found in the fossil record as animals created by God’s direct intervention. These creatures existed for a time and then went extinct. RTB’s model considers the hominids to be remarkable creatures that walked erect and possessed some level of limited intelligence and emotional capacity. This allowed these animals to employ crude tools and even adopt some level of “culture” much like baboons, gorillas, and chimpanzees. While the RTB model posits that the hominids were created by God’s divine fiat, they were not spiritual beings made in His image. RTB’s model reserves this status exclusively for modern humans.
The model treats the hominids as analogous to, but distinct from, the great apes. Because of this, the RTB model predicts that anatomical, physiological, biochemical, and genetic similarities will exist among the hominids and modern humans to varying degrees. But since the hominids were not made in God’s image, they are expected to be clearly distinct from modern humans, particularly in their cognitive capacity, behavior, “technology,” and “culture.”
A recent study explored the origin of division of labor by comparing the archeological records associated with the earliest modern humans and Neanderthals.
Neanderthals serve as an excellent case study to understand the emergence of this behavior. These hominids appeared late in the fossil record and their existence overlapped with modern humans for a period. They had large brain sizes. Neanderthals established permanent populations and left behind an abundant archeological record.
Based on a detailed survey of the Neanderthal archeological record, anthropologists Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner conclude that division of labor among Neanderthals was relatively limited. Neanderthal activity seems to have been focused on pursuing large terrestrial game. Neanderthal foraging practices were restricted to easily collected species. They didn’t exploit plants to any measure. There is no evidence for grinding and crushing implements at Neanderthal sites. Nor is there any evidence that Neanderthals manufactured clothing. These limited behaviors indicate that Neanderthal males and females, both adults and juveniles, must have all been involved in hunting large game.
The behaviors of Neanderthals stand in sharp contrast to the diverse activities of modern humans. The first humans foraged a wide range of creatures, those easy to collect and those requiring some level of ingenuity. Humans hunted a smattering of animals. They fished and made use of plants. They produced a wide variety of tools and manufactured clothing. This assortment of behaviors implies a division of labor among the earliest modern humans.
These differences in behavior have important implications. Because Neanderthals only hunted large game animals, they occupied the top trophic levels in the ecosystem. This placement limited their population sizes to small numbers and made them susceptible to extinction. In fact, Kuhn and Stiner speculate that Neanderthals’ failure to divide labor ultimately led to the creature’s demise.
The hunting and foraging practices of the first modern humans placed them in lower trophic levels. This allowed them to achieve much larger population sizes and made their populations intrinsically more robust than Neanderthals’. Division of labor among the first modern humans allowed them to occupy diverse, novel, and harsh environments. These abilities made modern humans ideally suited to rapidly migrate from their point of origin to fill the Earth.
This study and others highlight the fundamental differences in behavior between Neanderthals (and the other hominids) and modern humans—differences that are in full accord with RTB’s biblical model for human origins.