How to sell Books with a Misleading Premise

I finished reading The Invaders: How Humans and their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction by Pat Shipman, and it left me shaking my head in confusion.  The author debunked the title of her book on page 213 when she wrote “…there are no well-dated Neanderthal sites younger than about 40,000 years ago; all are older.  Unless future finds show wolf-dogs in even earlier sites, Neanderthals were extinct by the time wolf-dogs appeared.”  If Neanderthals were extinct by the time humans supposedly began working with “wolf-dogs,” the human-dog connection can’t possibly be the reason Neanderthals became extinct.  I think the author invented a sensationalist title to sell copies of a book that is based on a completely unfounded premise.  Perhaps it was the publisher’s idea.  The last chapter of this book seems to be an incoherent add-on.

The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction

The author of this book convincingly refutes her own premise.

The premise of her book depends upon 1 highly controversial study.  This study used a complex statistical analysis of dog and wolf skull measurements to differentiate between the 2.  These scientists measured a skull from Goyet Cave, Belgium; dating to 36,000 calendar years BP, and determined it had a 99% chance of being from a dog.  Prior to this find, it was thought humans didn’t domesticate dogs until about 14,000 BP.  Some other canid skulls measured in this study, dating to older than 14,000 BP, were also determined to be dog rather than wolf.  However, another study (referenced below) completely contradicts this conclusion.  These scientists used a 3-D morphometric analysis of the same ancient canid skulls and determined the Goyet Cave specimen and others of similar age were wolf, not dog.  A DNA study of these specimens determined these particular canids were not ancestral to modern dogs or extant wolves.  They were probably just an extinct ecomorph of wolf.  Alas for Pat Shipman, her hypothesis is a poorly reasoned fantasy.

Humans didn’t need dogs to rub out Neanderthals.  Humans likely had far superior organizational skills as well as advanced technology such as projectile weapons and knitting needles.  Humans could survive in a colder climate with better clothing and could successfully hunt animals on open plains.  I’m certain humans beat Neanderthals in battle by using strategy and tactics.  I do think humans were the sole factor in the extinction of Neanderthals.  If Homo sapiens never colonized Europe, Neanderthals would still be there today.  Climate change can’t be the reason for their extinction because Neanderthals survived dozens of dramatic shifts in climate phases during their >250,000 year occupation of Europe.

I found a couple of other minor mistakes in The Invaders worth noting.  This isn’t a big deal–I know there are mistakes on my blog, but I’m too lazy to go back and edit corrections.  The late surviving population of mammoths on Wrangel Island lasted until 4000 BP, not 3000 BP, and they were not a dwarf population as Pat Shipman mistakenly claimed.  They were fully-sized woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius).  She also reproduced a graph in her book from a study that mistakenly classifies the aurochs (Bos taurus), the ancestor of modern cattle, as a steppe environment inhabitant.  The aurochs favored habitat was riparian woodland.  Cattle need frequent access to water and are not well adapted to arid grassland habitat.


Drake, Abby; et. al.

“3D Morphometric Analysis of Fossil Canid Skulls Contradicts Domestication of Dogs during the Late Paleolithic”

Scientific Reports 2015

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