Neanderthals are often pictured as simple, brutish and violent creatures. But really how accurate is that description? Virtually all of modem man’s accomplishments stem from the fact that he lives in larger social groups. This has allowed for much greater specialization, and more skills available to teach the young. Often the tools being used and the techniques of the two groups at that time is sited as a reason why modern man is smarter but such only come about because of the greater numbers living together.
But consider that Neanderthals were smart enough that they did not need same number of people to survive and thrive in that same area. Their social organization was much more family than tribe and so more likely to split up and move on when conditions permitted. The level of trade that was going on were quite significant for such small groups. This is indication that the relationships between the . different groups was quite a bit more peaceful that is often assumed. Often you see them portrayed as raiding each other for mates. Intermarriage from the different groups is a much more likely occurrence from groups that trade that much. The lack of as many superstitions can also be inferred since thing that likely had overt religious significance is far far less in the Neanderthals settlements. So were they actually smarter? No one can say for sure but they might not have been the simple brutish violent creature that so many have assumed.
There has been a great many studies done that suggest population totals only in the thousands and spread out all across Europe. This was inconsistent with how often Neanderthals artifacts are found. Newer techniques for analyzing the genetic material put the minimum population at 10,000 and probably greater than that closer to 100,000 at its height. Yet even this may be a low number as more sited and and populations are discovered each decade.. Also they were around for roughly 250,000 years. This is far from the species on the verge of extinction it whole existence that was popular in science just a few years ago.
The family nature verse the tribal will have quite a significant effect on the types of artifact that will be common. Art work and personal decorations will have far less importance and far less time spent on them. Yet it is the very lack of these that is most often sighted as reasons they were not as smart. The nearly complete lack of religious artifacts is not taken of a lack of religious superstition but a lack to express those with out ever considering that they may have simply been intelligent enough not to be superstitious. If you don’t have spirits, gods and things to appease there is even less reason to go in for the levels of adornments that were common in the other tribal societies. If they know that carrying a charm or idol has no effect what so ever on their outcome why go to all that expense and time to create such that fill the tribal sites of modem man? Yet it is this very lack of religious items that has lead so many to say that they were simple minded.
Probably the two things that never occurred in the neanderthals were the office of chief and the office of priest something that was almost certainly presence in every tribe. Because of this they are less intelligent? Not necessarily. Some might even consider that a sign of more intelligence. However with out these two factors binding the social groups together small family groups would be much more likely to simply go their own way. Small groups of 30 to 60 will never have the level of specialization that the tribes of 200 to 500 had. A tribe will have more innovation in a century than such groups will have in a thousand years. It will have more time to spend on art work in that same century than such groups of the same population will have to spend on such in over a thousand years. The specialization will allow skills to be developed in a tribe far in advance of a level that such family groups could possible have. It could easy be argued that the tribe made up for lack of intelligence of the neanderthals by use of greater numbers. At this point we simply don’t know. Far to many people are trying to prove their own ideas instead of looking to figure out what was really happening.
War like brute or peaceful hunter trader? Both are still possibilities at this point. Family groups tend to be a bit more territorial than tribes but are also more able to come to terms with their neighbors before bloodshed happens. It will take a lot more time considering various possibilities and gathering even more information about them before we know how smart they actually were.