Modern humans appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago and, as they later spread across Eurasia, they encountered indigenous Neanderthal populations. The two species coexisted until 30,000 years ago or perhaps even later, but the Neanderthals eventually went extinct. A number of current hypotheses address the possible mechanics of the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans, and there has been extensive debate as to whether or not the presence of the latter accelerated the extinction of the former.
The Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans (RNMH) project is a large-scale multidisciplinary study of the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans. The study implements an innovative framework structured around the contrast between the success of modern human societies in solving survival strategy problems, and the failure of Neanderthal societies to do so. In this context, we attribute this divergence between the two societies to a difference in learning abilities between the two populations. This project is investigating the differences in individual and social learning abilities between Neanderthals and modern humans, and working to show that the relatively advanced learning abilities of modern humans were the decisive factor.
Thus, we have proposed a working hypothesis (hereafter called the “learning hypothesis”) which explains the replacement in terms of differences in learning capacity; we are subjecting this hypothesis to various empirical tests. The specific goal of this project is to verify the learning hypothesis within an interdisciplinary research framework incorporating new perspectives and methods from the humanities, biological sciences including neuroscience, and engineering.
This RNMH Series will provide information in real time on our on-going research in the RNMH Project and the emergent outcomes of that research. Our objectives are (a) to present the content of the research conducted by members of this project in the volumes in this series, and (b) to discover research projects which are directly related to ours and to address their findings.
In line with the project research strategy, the series will present (1) individual research outcomes in the various fields involved in the project, including archaeology, paleoanthropology, cultural anthropology, population biology, earth sciences, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and biomechanics; and (2) comprehensive research models integrating these individual research outcomes.
Thus, this series will emphatically not be simply a discipline-segmented collection of information, but will also strive to provide multidisciplinary coverage under the overarching concept of learning strategies. This series will report on tests of the currently available hypotheses, offer new perspectives on the process of replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans and the origins of modern humans; thus we are confident that this series will constitute a major academic contribution. The series will also include monographs and edited collections focusing on specific problem-oriented topics related to our project, in a multidisciplinary mode where possible.