Ratchets and Replacement: The Potential Role of Cultural Accumulation in the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans

  • Michael ChazanEmail author
Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)


The replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans is often explained in terms of an adaptive advantage held by modern humans that is related to cognition. This article explores the possibility that the adaptive advantage of modern humans was related to accumulated cultural knowledge rather than genetically controlled cognitive traits. Using a fictional account of an experiment with social learning robots, the argument is made that differences in meta-population size and differences in the timing of the onset of technological innovations might have led to a disparity between Neanderthals and modern humans in accumulated cultural knowledge. This disparity offers a plausible explanatory framework for the adaptive advantage of modern humans during the expansion into Eurasia.


Modern humans Neanderthals Cultural transmission Ratchet effect 



I am very grateful to the organizers of the 2014 RMNH meeting in Hokkaido for inviting me to participate in the conference. This paper builds on the efforts to combine modeling, cognitive science, and archaeology that distinguishes the RMNH framework. I would also like to thank Mark Collard and participants in the HESP program for giving me a chance to discuss these ideas in another stimulating interdisciplinary context.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Evolutionary Studies InstituteUniversity of the Witwatersrand, WITSJohannesburgSouth Africa

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