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Clash of Evolutionary Levels

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Senator Robert Kelly: I wonder, as well, doctor, if this same question wasn't asked by the last neanderthal about the first cro-magnon?
[Stuff Blowing Up]
Mystique: An apt question, Senator Kelly, and one with its own answer — for we all know what the first cro-magnon did to the last neanderthal.
Uncanny X-Men, issue 141

It is Common Knowledge that Cro-Magnon man exterminated the Neanderthal. And as we all know, History Repeats. Thus, it is inevitable that a more-evolved species of human (frequently "Homo superior") will exterminate a lesser-evolved species of human (frequently, our modern Homo sapiens sapiens). Of course, because Humans Are Warriors, the less-evolved humanity does not go gentle, and fights back against the more-evolved version. Depending on where the work falls on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, co-existence may be easy, difficult, or impossible. Frequently, expect modern humans (whether they are more or less evolved than the version of human they're fighting against) to "draw first blood" under the logic that Humans Are the Real Monsters. Sometimes, however, Homo superior bands together and institute a Masquerade to protect themselves until the day they inevitably take down those uppity Neanderthals. And then, some Homo superior Take a Third Option and say Screw This, I'm Outta Here. One of these species is likely to attempt (or actually employ) a Final Solution on the other.

Expect the humans on either side to cite the tale of the Neanderthal versus the Cro-Magnon man (the more-evolved human to justify their extermination of the lesser-evolved, the lesser-evolved to justify striking first against the more-evolved to preserve their own race). The Cro-Magnon, through his superior intellect, drove the Neanderthal to extinction everywhere he went in a very short span of time. The poor, brutish, stupid Neanderthal just couldn't compete with the vastly superior Cro-Magnon and was put in its proper place (that is, nonexistence) by its more evolved cousin.

Except it (probably) didn't happen that way. For one thing, Cro-Magnon man didn't show up out of nowhere as a more evolved version of the Neanderthal. They were both divergent strains of the homo evolutionary tree who had been isolated from each other by geography and the climate (i.e., the Ice Age), but then intermingled as those restrictions lessened. Also, while it was the leading theory for quite some time that the Cro-Magnon violently replaced Neanderthals by weaponizing its greater intelligence, more recent evidence has many anthropologists believing that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons co-existed and interbred. This interbreeding, in fact, is probably what contributed to modern human intelligence in the first place as Neanderthals, in inverse to what pop culture would say, had highly developed brains (their DNA still exists in peoples of Eurasian descent). The evidence is very new, however, and the "Neanderthals = dumb therefore extermination" model is still widely believed by many. As such, it's likely to show up in any work not made (or set) past the late 2010s.

As such, the view that a more-evolved species will inevitably (and probably quickly) destroy a less-evolved species is slow to leave the public consciousness, and thus is still found in fiction. Thus, we have this trope: where the relentless antagonism between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, and Cro-Magnon's clear evolutionary superiority, spelled a rapid doom to the poor, hapless Neanderthal, and history is about to repeat/is repeating itself.

Sub-Trope of Evolutionary Levels, specifically involving Human Subspecies. People who often consider this as their life philosophy include The Social Darwinist, Evilutionary Biologist and Super Supremacist, painting whatever group they're against as the Neanderthals and their own group as the Cro-Magnons. A symptom (or justification) of Hollywood Evolution. See All Cavemen Were Neanderthals for more information. Has (probably) nothing to do with Cavemen Versus Astronauts Debate.

(Note that, while the trope isn't exclusively limited to hominid species, because Most Writers Are Human the trope is usually played out with Human Subspecies, or more rarely Human Aliens. The two species in question need to be closely enough related that they're subspecies, or one a subspecies of the other, otherwise the trope is The Right of a Superior Species.)


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    Anime and Manga 
  • This is a big part of Elfen Lied. Diclonius/Diclonii, or Homo Diclonius, are a newly mutated Human Subspecies. Their appearance is similar to humans, but with several differences, namely horn-like protrusions on the forehead and the presence of telekinetic invisible arms called "vectors". Diclonii are hated and feared by the few people who know about them, as they seem to have an innate urge to kill humans (the entire reason why people became aware of them is because when they develop their vectors at age 3, they kill their families). Once this was known, it resulted in all known Diclonii being euthanized soon after birth or kidnapped and locked away in a government facility that performs painful experiments on them. It's revealed that Diclonii have a "DNA voice", or a genetic drive to kill humans and take their place as Earth's dominant species. However, there is some ambiguity as to just how much this can be averted by childhood circumstances; every Diclonius in the series has been abused by humans to the point where their biological survival instinct has fused with their psychosis, which insists that humans must be eradicated or else they will eradicate the Diclonii. There are some hints that if Diclonii were treated better by humans they could learn to suppress their murderous urges.

    Comic Books 
  • X-Men: The comics are all about this. Humans hate and fear mutants in part because of the belief that mutants will inevitably lead to the extinction of humanity. Of course, some mutants agree, and are all about hastening the inevitable. This viewpoint is sometimes exemplified by Magneto.
    • The Morlocks are mutants who decided not to get involved with either the X-Men (fighting to protect a humanity that hates and fears them) or the Brotherhood (fighting to destroy a humanity that hates and fears them), and instead chose to live deep in the tunnels under New York City. Take a Third Option didn't exactly work that well for them, though...
    • This is included with a dose of Fridge Horror in Ultimate X-Men. It's stated in the comics that mutant birthrates are increasing rapidly, perhaps even geometrically. While it's never outright stated, it's implied that the fact mutants exist means humanity's days are numbered, and that number isn't large.
    • In Old Man Logan, Logan notes with some melancholic amusement that, in the end (at least within that particular Alternate Universe) the whole situation was All for Nothing: as his own children can showcase, the X-Gene isn't passed on to descendants of mutants. Mutant-hood was just a genetic 'burp' in evolution and would have probably died out quietly in time if not for the Great Offscreen War.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Planet of the Apes franchise plays with this: advanced, evolved apes take over the Earth from Homo sapiens (portrayed as equally sapient or as de-evolved and animalistic, depending on the installment). The Apes typically look at humans as animals, to be kept as pets and beasts of burden. The immortal line "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" is memorable not just for the delivery, but because it's the first time Apes heard a human speak.
    • Played to the hilt in War for the Planet of the Apes. McCullough is convinced that, for humans to have a shot at survival, the Apes all have to die, and even then, it's a long shot.
      The Colonel: You're stronger than us, you're smart as hell. No matter what you say, eventually you'd replace us. That's the law of nature.
    • Also inverted in War for the Planet of the Apes with victims of the mutant Simian Flu virus, who lose their ability to speak, and possibly their higher brain functions, though evidence of the latter is largely absent in the film itself. Fearing that humans are on the verge of regressing to an animal state, McCullough orders all infected in his own ranks killed to stop the spread of the infection.
  • Quest for Fire: An evolutionary four-way battle royale is playing out. The Wagabu, which resemble H. habilis, raid a village of Ulam which resemble H. neanderthalensis and force them to flee. Later on, the Kzamm, which resemble H. erectus, are depicted as nomadic hunters of other hominids. Finally, the Ivaka, who are simply modern humans, end up getting along with the Ulam. It can be a subversion if you interpret the Ulam as Neanderthals, as the movie was released in 1981. The original book actually averts this trope even further (see the Literature folder below).
  • Missing Link, which is part-drama, part-documentary and probably also part-speculation for good measure, depicts the "man-ape" protagonist as the last survivor of a massacre by "man", and his gentleness is contrasted with their cunning and apparently casual willingness to kill.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey has a story arc at the dawn of civilization in which Moonwatcher and his tribe struggle for survival. There is another tribe known simply as the Others that often bully and intimidate Moonwatcher's clan. One morning, a towering, ominous monolith appears in Moonwatcher's home ground, which unnerves him and his companions. However, it's suggested (in the book, it's outright stated) that the monolith tweaks their brains so that they glean the idea of using bones and rocks as tools and weapons. The next time Moonwatcher's clan encounter the Others, they make short work of their foes; Beware the Quiet Ones, indeed.
  • In X-Men: First Class, Charles Xavier's doctoral thesis outright states the "Cro-Magnon exterminated Neanderthal" theory, to set the tone for the film itself, as well as all chronologically subsequent films. Justified, since the film is set in The '60s, when this theory was still in the majority.
    • In X2: X-Men United (chronologically some forty years after X-Men: First Class), a museum tour guide during the opening sequence talks about how it was once believed that the Cro-Magnons eradicated the Neanderthals, but more recent DNA analysis indicates that they interbred instead.

  • In the science fiction novel Frostworld And Dreamfire, the planet Hraggellon has/had multiple offshoot humanoid species: the civilized local equivalent of Homo sapiens; a species of near-sapients equivalent to australopithecines; and in between the two the Onhla, intelligent but utterly uncivilized, who don't even build shelters or wear more than a fur cloak for clothing. (Mention is also made in passing to an "extinct race of dwarves".) By the end of the novel, the Onhla have all died of a civilization-bred plague and the semi-sapient species has been hunted to extinction.
  • The Earth's Children series has conflict between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals as a recurring element, with the former viewing the latter as dangerous animals and the latter viewing the former as alien and frightening. The disappearance of the Neanderthals is portrayed as them essentially being an evolutionary dead end, their adaptations (most notably, a photographic Genetic Memory that also gives them Creative Sterility) leaving them unprepared for a world that is facing rapid changes.
    • The first book, "Clan of the Cave Bear", recounts how the young Cro-Magnon Ayla became an orphan, and was adopted into the Cave Bear clan of Neanderthals. Despite significant physiological and psychological differences, the clan ends up accepting her, until the one man who doesn't becomes chief and exiles her out of spite.
    • Creb, the Clan's shaman and Ayla's foster father, has a Heroic BSoD after having a vision of the future (modern-day Earth) and seeing that his people will cease to exist. Hope returns to him after realizing Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons can interbreed, meaning some part of the Clan will always live on.
    • Creb was born with a malformed skull and overdeveloped frontal lobe that left him better at comprehending abstractions than any other Clan member. He's utterly stunned when he begins coaching Ayla through the concept of numbers, only to discover she not only understands him immediately but also intuits addition and subtraction in her next breath — a concept he took years to master. Conversely, Ayla has none of the Genetic Memory the rest of the Clan takes for granted, and the way she has to learn and practice skills like identifying herbs and making fires caused a lot of frustration at first.
    • Ayla's perspectives as a Cro-Magnon raised by Neanderthals are implied to ultimately lead the two races to something resembling peace.
  • The Howard Families in Methuselah's Children get into this conflict with normal humanity. They aren't truly mutants, just the members of families who have voluntarily engaged in selective breeding for long lifespan. After several generations of this, members of the Howard Families (Mr. Howard was the dude who ponied up the cash to make it work way back in the beginning) routinely live 25 to 30% longer than normal people, and the normal people refuse to believe that the Howard's don't have some secret formula or treatment that they aren't sharing. (It doesn't help that the Families tend to be very well off, too.) Long story short: the government is pressured into starting a program to strip the Howards of their holdings and imprison them until they fork over the secret. The Howards manage to hijack a colony spaceship (don't ask) and take off for the stars to find a world where they will be safe. From there it basically becomes an homage to the The Odyssey...
  • In The Neanderthal Parallax, a gateway opens to a parallel Earth where Neanderthals became the dominant form in humanity and evolved a society which in many ways is at least as advanced as our Cro-Magnon Earth and, in some ways, outstrips it. From the Neanderthal point of view, their problem is that they chose to apply birth control and hence population control quite early on. They are outnumbered by a factor of thousands to one. Meanwhile, there are people on the overpopulated and spoilt Cro-Magnon Earth (ours) who see Neanderthal Earth as a godsend and plan to conquer it. To them the Neanderthals are a nuisance who should, at best, have the status of Native Americans on reservations following the conquest of the Americas — and that's the liberal view. Others want to distribute diseases the Neanderthals have no defense against, and deal with the problem that way... In fairness, most of Neanderthal Earth is uninhabited due to their smaller population, but Cro-Magnons who want to colonize it aren't asking if they'd be okay to settle in other areas either.
  • Averted in Quest for Fire. There are multiple human species clashing, but none of them are portrayed as inherently superior. The brutish-looking cannibal tribe has more advanced fire-keeping techniques than the neanderthal protagonists and the proverbial Cro-Magnons are in many ways inferior to the other species despite their sophisticated tool culture. Said Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons end up forming an alliance with no violent conflict between them. The most physically "primitive" hominids represented turn out to be peaceful gorilla-like vegetarians. It's a remarkably nuanced portrayal of early humans for 1911.
  • The appearance of the Next in The Long Earth causes a pointed debate. On human side, fear of being replaced actually leads to the genocidal solution put to consideration, while on the side of the Next, some are really keen on taking over as inherently superior. Ultimately, human decision-makers choose the humane option, and the Next leave to found their own settlement.
  • In the short story "N-Words" by Ted Kosmatka, a secret lab is discovered that has brought back Neanderthal children, and once they integrate into society people soon discover that the Neanderthals are both smarter and stronger than the average human, leading to antagonism and prejudice.
  • The post-apocalyptic Russian novel Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky and the video game based on it feature a recently appeared race of psychic Mutants known as the Dark Ones that threaten whatever remains of humanity hiding in the Moscow Metro. Their psychic powers Mind Rape whoever they encounter, and they're refered to as "Homo Novus", the next step in human evolution, that is an existential threat to humanity and could exterminate or enslave them. Interestingly, rather than Hollywood Evolution there's actually a legitimate argument to be made that the Dark Ones are the next step in human evolution, since they can actually live on the surface (the radioactive ruins of Moscow with unbreathable air and a permanent winter) while humanity can barely survive in the Moscow Metro. The Dark Ones are simply more adapted to life on Earth. This is all subverted however, since in both the novel and the game it's revealed the Dark Ones are peaceful, and what looks like psychic attacks is their attempt to communicate by Telepathy but the human brain cannot handle it and it leads to intense pain, terror and almost always ends in death.
    "How long will you last on mushrooms, multivitamins and pork? Surrender, Homo sapiens! You are no longer the king of nature! You've been dethroned! No, you don't have to die instantly, nobody will insist on that. Crawl a little more in agony, choking on your own excrement... But know this, Homo sapiens: you are obsolete!"

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Telepaths versus "mundanes" have this sort of conflict. While most of humanity's poor treatment of their telepaths is due to not unjustified fear of telepathic invasion of privacy, some of it is due to the fact that some humans fear that telepaths are "Homo superior", and their very existence means that Homo sapiens' days are flat-out numbered. One wealthy industrialist goes so far as to create a telepath-specific virus, which would make all telepaths completely reliant on injections supplied by him or die. As his right-hand man states, "on a level playing field, Homo superior wins every time." And then there are some human telepaths who consider themselves Homo superior and are quite prepared to inherit the Earth Alliance once they've rid it of those pesky mundanes. For what it's worth, the series itself strongly implies that telepathy is the next step in human evolution (though it was kick-started by the Vorlons) and will ultimately lead to humans evolving into Energy Beings.
    • Subverted in the episode "Secrets of the Soul", where it was discovered that the Hyach had wiped out a subspecies of their people known as the Hyach-do over a thousand years previous, and the loss of genetic diversity was causing them to slowly die out from inbreeding.
    • The Centauri also wipe out another subspecies known as the Xon who developed in other continent and the two never met until the technology for intercontinental travel was discovered. The warlord that led the final defeat of the Xon became the First Emperor and founder of the Republic and the heads of the major clans (including Londo's) became the Centaurum (Senate). Londo jokes about it:
    "What were the last words of the last Xon? Aaaaaaggggghhhh!"
  • In the Farscape episode "My Three Crichtons", an alien probe creates two clones from Crichton, a primitive caveman referred to as "Neandro" and a hyper-evolved character with a giant brain referred to as "Futuro". Perhaps predictably, Futuro turns out to be selfish and evil, willing to kill the other two (and potentially everyone else) to survive, and the Neandro is shown to be benevolent and self-sacrificing.
  • The Syfy (then SciFi) series Prey is also about this trope. During a routine DNA test for a murder trial, the main character discovers that the murderer's DNA is different enough from baseline humanity to qualify him as a different species, which leads to the discovery of a whole new species of humanity. This new species remains hidden from humanity until they can increase their numbers and technology sufficiently to decisively win the inevitable war against "baseline" humans. Thus, the main characters, with almost no one believing them, have to fight a covert war against this new species before old humanity is wiped out. Yeah, it's basically X-Men meets The X-Files.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: In an instance where nature does most of the work, the episode "Dear Doctor" has the Enterprise finding a planet peacefully cohabited by two slightly different species at different evolutionary levels. The dominant species has a genetic condition which slates them to die out in a couple hundred years, while the lesser species is evolving to replace them. The Enterprise ultimately does not assist the dominant species, as it would alter the planet's natural development. Comparisons to Humans and Neanderthals are made to justify this decision.
  • Sliders introduces the existence of the Kromag, at first described as a type of aggressive ape that evolved in an Alternate Universe instead of humans, and with more advanced technology, they start to invade Earth after Earth of civilized homo sapiens. One of the characters who is a slave girl of the Kromags even mentions that the Kromag were appalled by the discovery that most Earths have homo sapiens instead of them, and in fact, the term homo sapiens instead of human was used (for a while but later dropped). Later episodes show that this was untrue all along and that the Kromag Prime universe was a world where humans and Kromags co-existed and were at war with each other, with the Kromag winning. Similarly, there is a world where it was the other way around, and the Kromag are basically like the Jews of that world suffering the Holocaust.
  • In the first season of Westworld, Robert Ford cites this idea, but with a double meaning. The way he phrases it, he seems to mean that humans are innately bestial and will viciously kill any competitors. However, it actually turns out that he wants the Hosts to supplant humans and become the dominant species on the planet.
    Ford: Do you know what happened to the Neanderthals, Bernard? We ate them.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Chrono Trigger: The Prehistoric era features a clash between the primitive humans and the considerably more advanced Reptites (dinosaur men), which decisively ends when Lavos crashes onto the Reptites' lair. In one ending, the humans are hunted to extinction by the Reptites, resulting in the modern humans being replaced with Reptites as the dominant species.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: From The Braeburn Report, there is discussion of mutants overtaking baseline humanity and past events of hominoid species wiping out the previous ones:
    • Mutants wiping out Homo sapiens:
      "Yes. You have to remember that the ... person in question ... is an Afrikaner of the old school. He's seen how minor genetic differences can divide a culture and tear it into pieces. In many cases a mutation is a trivial difference. Some people might think that norms and mutants could live alongside one another. Others think that there can never be peace until once side is unquestionably supreme, and rules the other side with an iron fist. Due to certain childhood experiences, our director takes the second opinion."
    • Homo sapiens wiping out Homo neanderthalensis:
      Peter leaned back, sighing. "The short of it? Mutants are a new species. Homo neanderthalensis, Homo sapiens, Homo mutandis — or whatever they will decide to call it. Compared to the Neanderthals, we sapiens retain more youthful and childlike features. note  Mutants continue that trend. Eyes that are slightly larger again, they average less body hair, a more extreme difference between women and men. Their women seem to have better figures, on average, and they seem to retain characteristics that we associate with youth, even into full maturity."
    • Homo sapiens wiping out Homo heidelbergensis.
      Homo heidelbergensis — the common ancestor to both Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. The date of these fossils is about 200,000 years ago, when Heidelberg shuffled off the stage. Now here's what you need to know: the Heidelberg was about the same height as modern humans, more muscular, and more primitive. Anthropologists can identify clothing, tools, bones and quickly peg them to either Heidelberg, sapiens, or neanderthalensis. Now look at these."
      [...] We think it was a battlefield, where Heidelberg fought sapiens. This battlefield appears to be a single incident, but it correlates with other digs."
      I shrugged. "So the old species fought the new one. No surprise there." I sighed. "Look, I know what's got me paranoid. What's got you so worked up?"
      "What you're missing is the gender story. In sapiens, there are twenty-three female remains, and only two male. It's the opposite for Heidelberg — forty-five male, and no female at all. What do you conclude from this?"
      "Uh... raiding gang or maybe even a rape gang, attacking the hunter-gatherer women while the men were out hunting. Also, we trounced them. But other explanations are possible. It's hard to know. Reconstructing a story from such partial evidence is tough."
      "Here's more evidence, then. Dating is crude. You can get within plus or minus a few thousand years, but that's all. For finer work, they rely on physical positioning, layers, disposition within the site. If we call that point 200,000 years ago 'the end' — at least from the perspective of Heidelberg — then there's a clear trend in the hundred years prior to the end. A steady collection of remains, but proportionately more male pelvic remains.
      [...] Constant population, but a suddenly shifting gender balance, followed by extinction.
      "In a completely different dig, but same time period as near as we can estimate, we have the opposite issue.
      Homo sapiens, starting with a population of around two, followed by a virtually exploding population that seems to have nine females for every male. Again, the dig teams have dismissed it as absurd, and the result of bad technique. But it fits too well.
      Because that battlefield is the last item on the list. You know what it looks like to me? It looks like the last members of a dying species, enraged against their replacements."

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