We have lots of evidence that about 230,000 years ago, colonies of Neandertals began to settle on the continent of Europe. They were alone there, from what we know, until about 30,000 years ago at which time our own ancestors began to colonize Europe as well. It has been a pretty widely accepted theory that Homo Sapiens came in and outwitted the Neandertals and managed to wipe them out by out-surviving them. More recent evidence and evidence analysis has shown that theory is likely to be largely false.
To begin with, Neandertal skeletons have been observed to have a larger brain case than that of the Homo Sapiens. In general, the larger the brain in comparison to the body it's in, the smarter the creature it belongs to. Was this definitely the case with the Neandertals, we can never know, but it's a pretty well-evidenced idea in nature.
Neandertals had been in Europe, a cold climate, particularly so for a species coming from the very warm climate of Africa, for about 200,000 years and had lots of time to adapt to their environment. This gave them another advantage over the "invading" Homo Sapiens. Their bone structure also suggests that they were more stocky and muscular than our ancestors probably giving them an edge when hunting.
Perhaps the Homo Sapiens had better tools? A year-long study done by two archaeologists on the Homo Sapiens and Neandertal tools trying to understand what it was that led to the demise of the Neandertal species. They found that not only did the Neandertal method for making tools produce a larger cutting edge than those of Homo Sapiens, but it also wasted less material allowing them to make more tools.
So what was it that gave us an edge over our "superior" cousins? The first evidence we can find that gives us a clue is a flute made of mammoth ivory found in Germany. It is the earliest archaeological evidence we have of a group of humans making music. Why is this important? Community. It is music that brings creatures of all species together. Of all of the creatures that communicate with each other within their species, most of them communicate with sound.
Imagine, if you will, Bonobos hanging out in the forest in their family group. These are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom and they are, like most primate species, very vocal. As we evolved, our need to communicate with each other would not have left us, but rather, became more important. Compared to the other hunters in our early evolutionary history, we were in no way equipped to compete as individuals. We had no claws or large teeth to bite with and our ability to run fast enough to outrun a competing species went out when we started standing more upright. (Four-legged animals are faster that two-legged ones.) It was necessary for our early ancestors to remain in a group, thus outnumbering their competitors and swinging the pendulum back in our favor. As the earliest humans evolved, so did their method of communication.
It takes imagination to invent, which our ancestors were obviously pretty good at. If you have imagination, it stands to reason that there would be some form of artistic products as a result. They moved from grunts and screeches and all manner of "animal" noises to perhaps imitating the sounds of the birds they heard. And things snowballed from there. It is, I'm pretty sure, ingrained in us to react to music. Different music will incite different reactions. I can almost imagine our early ancestors encircling a fire and stomping and "singing" as they prepared for a hunt, for example. Our sense of community was a huge advantage for us compared to Neandertals. This also suggests inter-colony communication among the Homo Sapiens. If the flute isn't convincing enough, how 'bout this?
Artifacts of art have been found not just in one colony, but in almost all of them and they are all almost exactly, if not exactly, the same. What archaeologists suspect to be fertility idols have been found all over Europe from the same period in the fossil records. There are three conclusions you can come to with this information: 1. The different colonies of Homo Sapiens were perhaps trading with each other. 2. The different colonies were sharing information with each other on how to make them. 3. Each of the colonies happen to make the same art at the same time of their own imaginations. That last one would be a pretty big coincidence.
The fact that we were communicating with other groups of Homo Sapiens not only gives us the possibility that they were aiding each other with food or weapons perhaps, but it also opens the door to mixing gene pools providing for greater genetic variation, thereby increasing the chances that the processes of natural selection and evolution would make our species flourish. The fact that there is no evidence suggesting any interbreeding between Homo Sapiens and Neandertals (DNA tests have been done and have never once come up with genetic markers exclusive to Neandertals) suggests that the Neandertals did not share this sense of community. If Neandertals were the "traveling to look for a new mate" kind, there surely would have been some evidence of interbreeding. I do concede, however, that this does not make it a fact, but I think it's a pretty good theory. If Neandertals did not commute to other colonies, then it stands to reason that if the colony faced a hardship, there is a low chance of survival of the colony without help. It also makes sense that incest would have HAD to take place among them making their gene pool highly susceptible to multiplied bad genetic mutations causing all kinds of problems for them, hindering their chances of survival.
This idea is further evidenced by a recent study I found on the BBC News website. It suggests that the Neandertals may have lost large portions of their numbers long before our ancestors arrived, approximately 10,000-20,000 years before. The study looked at genetic variations in both Homo Sapiens and Neandertals to draw this conclusion. The genetic variation in Neandertals was found to be about the same as that of modern humans, which is not very much for so early a time.
The conclusion I've come to is that it's our sense of community that we should focus on. Genetic variation is only a small reason I say that, though. I'm just trying to point out how important it's been in our evolutionary past. When we separate ourselves, we have a reason to find differences between our group and "the others". If we find differences, that gives us a stage to pick out why our group is better. Do you see where I'm going with this?
Morgan Freeman, when asked what he thought of Black History Month, said it was "ridiculous". He went on to say that Black History is American History and shouldn't be thought about one month out of the year. He says to end racism, all we have to do is stop talking about it. I think there's a lot of truth in that. He said to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes: "I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man." This is what we all need to do to make things better for everyone. Let's stop using labels and focus on our species as a species and look at what makes us the same instead of what makes us different. Without that, I don't think we'll be going anywhere. I know I'm probably preaching to the choir in this forum, but I would imagine there are prejudice people in our community as well, however unlikely.