A post titled Neanderthals had differently organized brains reports evidence that Neanderthal brains did not have a larger volume devoted to intelligence (or at least that part of intelligence needed to handle social interactions in large groups) than humans.
A key fact is that “eye-socket size is correlated with latitude” – at least within a species.
Neanderthals were adapted to high latitudes, and had larger eye-sockets.
That suggests a relatively large part of their brain was devoted to the visual cortex, and it seems somewhat plausible to suspect that much of that involved low-level processing needed to make up for darker conditions at higher latitudes.
So Neanderthals’ larger skull size doesn’t imply any important advantage.
Book Review: The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body by Steven Mithen
This book presents some interesting and refreshing speculations on how music and language evolved, emphasizing reasons for believing that music was at least as important as language during significant parts of human evolution. It stretches the limits of what we can figure out from the available evidence, so it’s likely the some of it is wrong. But his hypotheses appear more likely to help us ask the right questions than to lead us astray.
Mithen’s knowledge of archeology helps make his book different from most books about the human mind in that he emphasizes very different selective pressures at different stages in human evolution, corresponding to changes in conditions that our ancestors faced.
Here are some surprising and informative section titles that will tell you something about the flavor of the book: “The musical implications of bipedalism”, and “The sexy hand-axe hypothesis”.
I was intrigued by his description of how music helps a group cooperate by synchronizing their emotions. But he helps point out the limits of those benefits by noting that the chants at Nazi rallies that helped unite most of the German people.