Colonisation and the genocide of the Neanderthals by the even-newer-Africans

Colonisation

Colonisation is not anything new. It is a necessary characteristic for any successful species.

Colonisation is the expansion by one community into the physical space being occupied by some other biological community. The invaders may be a whole species or just a particular strain within a species. It is a phenomenon exhibited by every successful biological community from viruses and bacteria and fungi to plants and animals (including humans). A new territory or habitat may be already occupied by other species, or strains of the same species, or unoccupied. The incoming community, if they dominate the new territory, are considered colonists. Newcomers who merely merge into the existing population are immigrants rather than colonists. Any communities already existing in the space and falling under the sway of the newcomers are the colonised. Many attempts at colonisation fail; either because the colonists cannot adapt to the new habitat or because they cannot compete (biologically, culturally, or technologically) with the existing inhabitants.

That living things exist in every conceivable corner of the earth’s land surface and of the oceans is a consequence of colonisation. That living things find it necessary to search for new habitats is driven by the need to grow and to survive changing environments by utilising the inherent genetic diversity available in every species. The greater the diversity available in any species, the greater the possibility that some individuals can adapt quickly to a new habitat. A successful species is one which grows its numbers and expands its habitat. Evolution results when the genetic diversity available allows individuals in a species to cope with changes to its environment.. These changes are usually small and quite slow. However, much of evolution has been when natural selection has been accelerated as species adapt to the rapid, and sometimes large, changes of environment in newly invaded habitats. Not all succeed and many would-be colonists have failed  to navigate the change. Species die out when they move, voluntarily or involuntarily, to new unsuitable habitats. There are a few species which have stagnated in tiny niche habitats, exhibit unusually little genetic diversity and have lost the wherewithal to change. They have become so specialised to fit their habitat that they are incapable of adapting to any other and have reached evolutionary “dead-ends”. Most such species have gone extinct but a few survive. Panda bears and theridiid spiders are examples. They have become incapable of growth or of colonisation and are probably on their slow path to extinction. 

The reality is that any living species which does not colonise is doomed either to stagnation in a niche habitat, or to failure and extinction. The most abject species failure would be an in-situ extinction without evolution of any descendant species. Colonisation favours, and even enables, the emergence of succeeding species. The change of habitat and the changes it brings about are essential to the continuation of life. Spaces are colonised when expanding communities invade and bring, or evolve, more competitive abilities, cultures, or technologies than available to the current inhabitants, if any, of that space. The dinosaurs on land had a long run but could not finally cope with the changes in their environment. But some of them took to the air. Many found new sources of food. Some developed a taste for insects and worms and begat a plethora of new species. (Along the way they even wiped out entire species of some flying insects). But the descendants of those adventurous, little dinosaurs have become the thousands of bird species to be found thriving today. They have colonised the entire globe while their larger, ancient kin perished miserably a long time ago.

However, success is no longer politically correct. Failure is glorified instead. Failure as a victim of another species is even more highly regarded. In the politically correct version of conservation, even successful species of fauna and flora are condemned for being invasive when they colonise new territories. Failing species, unfit for changed environments, or unable to bear the heat of competition from other species, are artificially, and unnaturally, protected in glorified zoos. However I do not hear any ornithologists condemning birds for being invasive species or for colonising the planet.

Human colonisation

In today’s politically correct world, colonisation has become a dirty word. Colonists are considered evil. Statues of colonists are a seen as a sign of oppression and depravity. The descendants of those colonised in the past claim a self-righteous victimhood in the present. Needless to say, a place in the kingdom of heaven is reserved for the colonised and their descendants. Colonists and their descendants are subject to eternal damnation. Yet, the history of mankind is one of successful communities expanding and colonising. The peopling of the world has been enabled by colonisation. The colonised became colonised usually because their culture was stagnating and their technology could not compete with incoming ones.

It is usually only the successful European colonisations between about 1400 and 1900 CE which have become politically incorrect. But the many attempts that failed are lost from history and get little sympathy. What is conveniently forgotten, though, is that the human populations in Australia and Africa and the Americas, at that time, were ripe for colonisation by any invading community with superior technology. For these populations, their own culture or their technology, or both, were stagnating and they were not growing. During that 500 year period, the native Americans, the inhabitants of S America and Africa and of Australia were themselves neither expanding nor  technologically capable of colonising new territories. If they had been more advanced the newcomers from Europe would have been immigrants rather than colonists. If it had not been the Europeans, it would have been someone else. If not the Europeans, the Chinese or Indians would have colonised Australia. If Europe had not had the capability to expand, they would themselves have probably succumbed to the expansion by the Ottomans. The Americas would then have been colonised from China or from Japan or some other region which was growing. Africa would have been colonised probably by the Ottomans (Turks and Arabs) or the Persians in the north, and by Indians and Chinese in the south. The key fact is that the inhabitants of Australia and the Americas and Africa, at that time, were not advancing (in numbers, culture, or technology) sufficiently to drive their own expansions or growth.

Go back another 2,000 years (500 BCE – 1,500 CE) and we find the South Indian colonisation of large tracts of SE Asia. The Greek and Persian expansions gave way to the Romans. The Mongols, the Normans, the Turks, and the Vikings were busy moving into the new territories they could access. The Norse attempts to colonise North America all failed. The Greeks used colonisation for expansion but also as a way of reducing social stress at home. Dissident populations were expelled to go and found colonies and be a nuisance elsewhere. Han Chinese colonies were used as the spearhead and as the means of expanding Empire. They were often guinea-pigs for testing the viability of new territories. And many failed. Where colonies succeeded, they nearly always had superior technology or weapons or organisation to dominate the local inhabitants. They usually used the indigenous population for labour and often as enslaved labour. These early colonisations were probably more brutal and savage than those which came later, but they go back far enough in time to generally escape sanctimonious censure today.

Delving further back into antiquity, reveals that colonisation was a major means of expansion even then. On land, those who mastered horses had a crucial advantage – at least for a while. Voyages across oceans were limited by the capability for navigating open seas. But sailing boats were quite well developed even if navigation was not, and coast-hugging allowed many communities to colonise by sea. But these expansions by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Indians, and Han Chinese are far enough in the past to escape moral judgements in the present. If we go back even further to pre-historical times (5,000 – 10,000 years ago), all of hunter-gatherer Europe was colonised by the rampaging Yamnaya and the Anatolians from central Asia. They brought agriculture and cities and civilisation in their wake, and so are now forgiven the conquest and pillage and enslavement they surely utilised along the way.

 But let us not forget that human colonisation was started long before antiquity by the Africans.

Colonisation from Africa

When it comes to the origins of human colonisation we need to go back to before we were ever human. I take humans to mean Anatomically Modern Humans – AMH – who appeared around 300,000 years ago. Around 2.5 million years ago, before AMH had evolved, homo erectus had already spread from Africa and colonised most of Europe and Asia but never reached Australia. These were the oldest-Africans, but they did not then have control of fire. These oldest-Africans were more settlers than colonists. 

Some time after we had evolved from apes, and perhaps around 1,000,000 – 800,000 years ago, a common ancestor of AMH, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and a couple of unknown hominin species (call them homo x and homo y), emigrated from Africa and colonised most of Europe, Central Asia, and South-East Asia. These were the old-Africans. The control of fire was achieved sometime during the homo erectus period and was certainly available to the colonising old-Africans. Most likely the movement of whole populations was motivated to move out of Africa, not so much by a shortage of space, but by growth or by changes of climate and a shortage of food. No doubt some were just seen as trouble-makers at home and encouraged to leave. These old-Africans were emigrants and probably the first ever hominin colonists. They were not strictly immigrants into existing societies since the territories they moved into had no other AMH inhabitants. But they probably did displace the oldest-Africans they found. There were probably many waves of old-Africans and later waves of emigrants may well have been immigrants into existing communities. By 700,000 years ago old-Africans covered all of Africa, Europe and Asia. Many of the areas they moved into may have had indigenous near-hominin populations. However, their indigenous cultures and technologies were not sufficiently competitive to prevent the wave of old-African colonists establishing themselves. The key distinction in these times was probably the control of fire. The colonisation of the world by the old-Africans led also to the demise of many animal species which could not resist the advanced cultures and technologies they were faced with. Some were hunted to extinction as prey, while others were unable to adapt quickly enough, and still others were just crowded out by the newcomers.

In due course (a small matter of a few hundred thousand years) the old-Africans in Central Asia and Europe evolved to become the Neanderthals. From about 500,000 years ago they were the dominant species, and that continued for about 300,000 years. In South-East Asia, the old-Africans evolved to become the Denisovans. In the rest of Asia (S China, India, and the Middle East), the old-Africans were still around but had evolved to become some as yet unknown hominin species. In Africa, the old-Africans evolved, sidestepped the evolution of any Neanderthal-like species, and eventually gave rise to Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) by about 300,000 years ago. Let us call them the new-Africans.

Then from about 200,000 years ago there were a number of waves of new-African emigration/colonisation into Europe and Asia. These emigrant waves continued sporadically for 100,000 years while, in Africa, evolution had created the even-newer-Africans. Around 60 – 70,000 years ago, they were responsible for the major wave of emigration now termed the “Out of Africa” event. The new-Africans and the even-newer-Africans found indigenous populations all across the new territories they expanded into. They were sometimes just other new-Africans and sometimes they were blended populations of old-Africans (Neanderthals, Denisovans, …) and new-Africans. In India, for example, the even-newer-Africans arrived after the Toba eruption and mingled genetically with small surviving populations of old-Africans already mingled with new-Africans. By around 50,000 years ago the even-newer-Africans had reached Australia.

Whether there was conflict between indigenous and arriving populations, or whether one culture was gradually displaced by, or submerged into, the more dominant one is unknown. Whether advanced colonists enslaved less advanced populations is unknown but is quite likely to have occurred. What is known is that the arrival of the even-newer-Africans caused the Neanderthals and the Denisovans and any other remaining hominin species around to disappear. By around 50,000 years ago the Denisovans were extinct and by 40,000 years ago there were no Neanderthals left. However, their genes still survive in tiny quantities and live on in us. So some contact leading to gene admixture certainly occurred. However, whether intentional or not, many communities were overwhelmed. Eventually, entire human species were wiped out.

The time-line for African colonists into Europe and Asia:

  • oldest-Africans – c. 2 m years ago
  • old-Africans – c. 1 million years ago >> evolved to be Neanderthals, Denisovans, …
  • new-Africans – c. 500,000 years ago >> evolved, mixed with old-Africans and other strains
  • new-Africans (AMH) – c. 300,000 years ago >>admixture with previous colonists
  • even-newer-Africans – c. 100,000 years ago >> colonised the known world, eradicated the Neanderthals , Denisovans and others

In current-day, politically correct language it could be called the Genocide of the Neanderthals by the even-newer-Africans.


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