Book Review: The Invaders

The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to ExtinctionThe Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction by Pat Shipman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here’s a fun hypothesis for you: What if the reason we don’t have Neanderthals is because they couldn’t hang in an environment where they had to compete with us for resources? What if the reason they couldn’t compete is because, in addition to their preposterously oversized skulls which had difficulty passing through the birth canal, they couldn’t befriend wolves?

What if the reason they couldn’t befriend wolves was because Neanderthal eyes were structurally similar to those of virtually every other primate, with no visible sclera, which made it difficult to read their facial expressions, especially with regard to what direction they were looking?

Neanderthals probably died off around the same time as we may or may not have domesticated the earliest dog-wolves, around 40,000 BC. Shipman suggests these events are not a coincidence, and points to our resultant co-evolution; we have domesticated dogs, but dogs have likely also domesticated us. Our brains are 10% smaller than they were back in the paleolithic, and cerebral shrinkage is a dead giveaway sign of domestication. Dogs are better at reading our tone, inflection, and facial expressions than any other animal, including our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos. Dogs are the only animal that will instinctively follow the direction you point your finger. Every other animal will just look at you (if you’re lucky).

It’s easy to see what we’ve done to dogs, you just have to look at European grey wolf, then look at pug. It’s harder to determine what dogs have done to us. They probably played a role in neotenizing us, but that particular train has been runaway since the dawn of agriculture and it would be hard to pin something specific on them. They’re likely responsible for human tendency to pack bond with Roombas, and the idea of “animal lovers” in general. 40,000 years ago, anybody with a particularly strong desire to hug a cat had a limited shelf-life.

Here’s my favorite tidbits from this one:
Cats aren’t domesticated, which is why they’ll scratch the hell out of you if startled by something, even if you maintain that’s your wittwe fwuffikins or whatever. If you returned a cat to nature, the woods of whatever, it could still survive, though probably not very well.

Dogs could not. We’ve made them too much like us, and they’ve become creatures caught between the wild and civilization. Some of the big fast fellas might have a chance, like Siberian huskies, but those who have gotten too far from wolfhood are goners.

The other, you know how humans and neanderthals interbred at one point? Yeah. Everybody knows that. Here’s a fun new factoid: the genomic overlap only shows up in those of European and East-Asian descent.

From a strictly eugenic “blood purity” perspective, the Nazis got it back-asswards.

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