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Discussion 1 to Reflections on Ethics 32
Commerce & Neandertal Extinction

by JT

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Neandertals and ancestral humans both lived in Europe in the period 30,000 to 50,000 years ago. By all the available evidence, Neandertals were at least as intelligent as our ancestors, and as physically fit, if not more so. Then why did they die out?

Recent studies indicate that these ancestral humans engaged in trade. They had access to goods from hundreds of miles away. They specialized in their own small communities, so that the best hunters hunted and the best tool makers made tools. Consequently they prospered.

There is currently no evidence that Neandertals followed this path. Apparently they each relied on their individual abilities rather than sharing in the efforts of others. And in the long run, this failure to work with others would have put them at a competitive disadvantage. They lost the evolutionary race.

To engage in trade with others requires the ability to trust others, to make agreements which will be fulfilled. A sense of morality is a precondition. Our ancestors had this sense; Neandertals may not have.

As suggested in Reflection 32, morality and our ability to live in a community are inextricably linked.