Recently, I read a small magazine article that made me furious, which is not easy to do. Human arrogance is one of my biggest pet peeves, and this article was full of it.
It started out promising, talking about Neanderthal jewelry, and I was excited to know more, but shortly after explaining the complex way a necklace could have been constructed and what its symbolism may have been, the article took a turn for the worst… Stating that Neanderthals couldn’t have made this necklace, because they could never have had the cognitive ability to give an object symbolism.
Well this made me mad for two reasons. One: how in the world can one accurately infer intelligence from bones?! Two: aren't we just assuming they were unintelligent due to longstanding and inaccurate biases created a hundred years ago!?
I just had to put up some sort of defense for our ancient cousins. Who, in my opinion, should be treated with respect rather than the contempt most people show them. But this contempt is mostly a product of plain ignorance. So in light of this lack of knowledge about Neanderthals I’ve collected a few fabulous documentaries all about Neanderthal intelligence, and anatomy. I learned a lot from these videos and I think you will too.
Wow… Those were absolutely riveting, and I absolutely LOVE some of the points made. I especially loved the voice reconstruction. I thinks its funny how high pitched their voices might have been. It's completely counter intuitive to what we would expect. Honestly, I didn’t know there was a bone surrounding the voice box, but I think it’s a miracle of fossilization that this one specimen survived, or else Neanderthals would have remained voiceless forever.
I also think its fascinating how humans would have interbred with Neanderthals. It makes sense in a way. They would have looked like us, and were close enough in relation to interbreed in the first place, and if clever human mothers wanted to give their offspring the best chance at surviving in the frigid, harsh environments of Ice Age Europe, it would have been an advantage to have some hardy Neanderthal genes.
Archeologists and Anthropologists theorize that there were actually three waves of hominid migration out of Africa. The first was a species called the Denisovans, they migrated to the east and Himalayan regions and migrated as far south east as the Philippines. From the little fossil evidence we have it is clear that the Devisovans were extremely well suited to living at high altitudes with little oxygen, and genetic evidence shows that they interbred rather extensively with humans through out Southeast Asia. The Second wave of hominid migration was the Neanderthals, who traveled west into Europe and evolved to live in the frigid and forested climates of that time. And the third was Homo Sapiens, who were able to migrate to all regions of the planet.
I think my favorite point that’s made in the videos above is that the old “humans were just smarter” notion is disproved. We weren’t smarter, if anything, the Neanderthals were far ahead of us in terms of multi-functioning tools and the manufacturing of useful materials. They must have had a complex language in order to hunt so effectively in thickly forested and dangerous areas, and pass along complex skills such as tool making.
The only reason Neanderthals went physically extinct was because their environment was changing. The Neanderthals were specially suited to their cold, forested, and harsh environments. Their torsos held heat better and they were more robust to hunt larger game. The only difference between them and us was their hip joints, that’s all. As their forests dwindled, their bodies were not capable of traversing the longer and longer differences needed to catch food. They only went extinct because of the shifting climate, not because we were better in any way.
I love learning about human history and the history of our evolutionary relatives. It’s simultaneously fulfilling and humbling to me to be a part of such a varied and ancient family tree.