Why did Neanderthals not suffocate from smoke produced by the fire?
Around 150,000 years ago, our distant relatives, the Neanderthals, lived on our planet in great numbers. They were called Neandertals. Nevertheless, it is essential to point out that a number of researchers lean toward attributing them to a distinct species of people; hence, it is possible that we are not connected to them in any way. In any event, prehistoric humans lived and maintained their existence by hunting various wild animals.
During that period, fire had already been discovered, therefore, people were able to cook their meals over flames and consume prepared foods. They vanished off the face of the earth throughout the course of time, and in 2016, researchers hypothesized that the hazardous smoke from campfires was the reason for their demise.
Numerous studies have shown that it is full of harmful compounds responsible for developing fatal illnesses. On the other hand, a different group of researchers only recently declared that smoke was not to blame for the extinction of the Neanderthals. But what led them to believe it in the first place?
The way of life in the Neanderthal era
Neanderthals inhabited a wide variety of habitats throughout the face of the earth several hundred years ago. Their skeletal remains have been discovered in many nations around the globe, including Germany, Spain, and even some in Asia. However, most of them were found in Europe; hence they are able to be classified as native Europeans. The many remnants suggest that they lived in tiny groups and were entirely carnivorous during their existence.
Some researchers are certain that the amount of meat consumed by these animals was far higher than that of the cave lions. This is something that people accept without question because a large number of animal bones, including those of mammoths, have been discovered in the areas where they resided. There is the fact that the Neanderthals’ caves had a “kitchen” complete with a fire.
The negative effects of smoking on human beings
Because most caves have inadequate ventilation, it is obvious that ancient humans were forced to absorb a significant amount of smoke from fires. On the basis of this information, experts working in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States proposed in 2016 that smoke-related diseases may have contributed to the extinction of Neanderthals.
Scientists have known for a long time that smoke from a campfire contains many harmful substances, the most dangerous of which are:
- Carbon dioxide, which kills body cells and leads to other dangerous changes;
- carbon monoxide, which causes headaches, nausea, confusion, and other unpleasant symptoms;
- sulfur dioxide, which disrupts the structure of mucous membranes.
In general, these compounds, when present in high quantities, are capable of causing the development of a wide variety of harmful disorders. For instance, difficulties might arise with a person’s reproductive function, their lung health can worsen, and they may have mental issues.
According to research on rodents, Neanderthals may have been sensitive to smoke from fires that were hundreds of times higher than that of people like you and me. It’s possible that this led to their extinction.
The Condition of Neanderthals
On the other hand, Dutch researchers just finished a study in which they looked at the effects of smoking, not on rat cells, but on human tissue samples. They already had a general understanding of the Neanderthals’ genetic characteristics. They came to this conclusion by comparing the characteristics of Neanderthals with those of contemporary people and finding that Neanderthals had a higher tolerance for dangerous chemicals than you and I have. This was probably owing to the fact that ancient humans often interacted with fire, requiring their bodies to adjust to situations that were not their natural environment. Because individuals in today’s society do not breathe the smoke as often from burning wood, so we do not need this sort of resilience.
As a result, it seems that the potentially lethal consequences of fires did not cause the Neanderthals’ extinction. The scenario that seems to be the most plausible is the one in which members of the Homo sapiens species, which includes both you and me, were responsible for their extinction. After all, Neanderthals lived in isolation from our immediate ancestors and were subject to occasional assaults at the hands of those relatives. It should not come as a surprise that our forefathers were successful because they had more sophisticated weaponry and technology than their opponents.