But in weighing the causes beyond the ultimately contributory aspects of climate, environment, or migration, Finlayson ratchets up several notches the role of “chance,” which is “everywhere in our story and ... has affected it in subtle, as well as dramatic, ways.” Luck is always understandably overlooked, perhaps – nebulous aberrations of weird science you hate to cite as proof for tangible fact. Nevertheless, “The key point of my argument,” states Finlayson, “is the one that makes, for me, our story such a beautiful one. It is about how unexpected events and situations altered the course of the story in unpredictable and unforeseen ways.”
That too-little-too-late outlook could also include the Neanderthals’ ill-preparedness as the Ice Age pushed the tundra south, and they had to contend with new species like reindeer and woolly mammoth on land where lack of tree cover made their hunting a hardship. In addition to drastic climate change came disease as their worn-out physiques weren’t built to weather that storm, either: “The Neanderthal extinction was the extinction of a particular body form that had been around for a long time."
At the same time, our ancestors had already jockeyed for position, situated to take full advantage of peak climate, environment, and location, location, location! But, well, lucky for us, there was something else to throw into the mix – and it was of paramount importance:
That one population of Ancestors was able to change its physique in one part of the world where it was continuously exposed to open environments was the result of circumstances. That the environment to which this body form had subsequently expanded so greatly was again a matter of pure chance. The jump onto the steppe tundra was indeed a small step for a population of Ancestors, but its impact was to be greater than Man’s first landing on the Moon thirty millennia later.
Taking a cohesive and comprehensive tack to his complex subject, the resourceful Finlayson makes full use of his previous work and research, while challenging us to rethink what we’ve previously learned, or dash our preconceived notions, about early human migration. And using imaginative analogies, he incisively recounts the expansion of the genus Homo and its diversification into various species.
Finlayson’s seemingly 'big picture' approach to his subject in The Humans Who Went Extinct not only saw him adeptly juggling an array of subjects and themes, it also reveales a refreshing ambitiousness superseding the normal, temporal, and anthropological confines of past and present… and aiming to include future horizons, when “evolution will take another step in some as yet unknown direction."