Most Important Facts Ever from Archaeology

concern interbreeding and “efficiency” vs. “creativity”

Stephen Yearwood
4 min readMay 18, 2024
Photo by Crawford Jolly on Unsplash

I just read the two most important bits of news from archaeology that I have ever encountered. The new (to me) knowledge arrived via “Simply Did Not Work,” by Tia Ghose in Live Science (February 7, 2024), an online publication. Her article featured an interview with Lucovik Slimak about his newest book, “The Naked Neanderthal: A New Understanding of the Human Creature” (Pegasus Books, 2024).

The first bit of news is that no Homo sapiens DNA has ever been found in any Neanderthal DNA. I was aware that Neanderthal DNA is found in the DNA of Homo sapiens today. I was astonished to learn that interbreeding between the two groups was strictly a one-way street.

Dr. Slimak suggested that a state of “total war” must have existed between the two groups. Exchanges of females were a standard means for regularizing the need to broaden and deepen the gene pool back in the day, in order to avoid the physical and mental deformations that occur when people too closely related have children (which encouraged making it a cultural taboo). Those exchanges of females tended in turn to regularize relations between groups. According to Slimak, Homo sapiens must have, for some (cultural) reason, been willing to take in (and mate with) Neanderthal females but not willing to give Neanderthal males the chance to mate with their females. The absence of an exchange of females led Slimak surmise that relations between the two groups were therefore on a hostile footing. (Me, not Slimak: maybe the Homo sapiens females simply refused to go along?)

It did occur to me that biology could account for the discrepancy in DNA, though it is nothing but pure conjecture on my part. What if, biologically, one mating produced fertile offspring but the other one did not? Again, I have no knowledge on which to base that conjecture.

Yet, at the same time some mating between Neanderthal males and Homo sapiens females must have occurred. Even if a state of war existed, Neanderthal males could not have been absolutely, completely barred from having sex with females who were Homo sapiens. If nothing else, they would have been ‘forbidden fruit’, for which Homo sapiens females have always been ‘known’ to have an irresistible weakness, those hulking Neanderthal males the ultimate ‘macho men’ to whom they just cannot say ‘No’, damn it (but just kidding — mostly).

Dr. Slimak did go to some lengths to blunt the suggestion that a state of permanent “total war” meant that the extinction of Neanderthals meant that Homo sapiens committed intentional, violent genocide. I have read many times that the demise of Neanderthals was mostly nonviolent, but was a matter of Homo sapiens ‘out competing’ Neanderthals.

That brings us to the second bit of news I learned form Ghose’s article. In the interview Slimak related another astonishing fact: stone tools made by Homo sapiens were uniform in, well, form, whereas tools made by Neanderthals were each unique in some way. According to Slimak, the former indicates “efficiency” whereas the latter indicates “creativity.” Even in the Stone Age, Homo Sapiens sought mass, uniform production of articles that were intended for ‘practical’ purposes as opposed their being uniquely crafted articles that include both aesthetics and functionality.

It is that inherent drive for “efficiency” that Slimak takes to be the basis for Homo sapiens out-competing Neanderthals. It is also, he says, the reason we are destroying the natural environment on which we depend in the end for our existence, even though we know we are doing precisely that.

On the other hand, Slimak notes, that drive for uniformity also has a more positive implication for humanity: we seek universality. That implies that, for all our differences, to which we cling so fervently, even unto killing one another over them, there exists somewhere in our misbegotten selves a spark of inclusiveness. If only we could tap into that, we could at long last put behind us the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that has been for Homo sapiens a source of so much senseless pain and suffering.


a possibility for universality: mutual respect in effecting choices as the means for governing governance in any human society [“Can’t Get Any Simpler” (a “2 min read” here in Medium with an array of links to other articles on the topic at the end of it — none of it behind the paywall)]



Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice