Ancient Man Neanderthal Man Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis Part 3

About the ancient Neanderthal man a relative of modern homo sapiens, history of his discovery, our understanding of this species.


NEANDERTHAL MAN (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis)

Though Neanderthals lived mostly in caves, there is evidence that they created crude shelters of hide and branches. Groups were small--about 30 people--and while Neanderthals practiced infanticide (probably killing off female babies because they weren't useful in the hunt; evidence: a male population 10% greater than the female population) and participated in massacres, they had a social conscience, as evidenced by their care of the weak and disabled. (A man found in Shanidar Cave, Iraq, was blind in one eye and paralyzed on the upper right side of his body.)

If Neanderthals could speak, and it is probable that they did, they had a much smaller speaking capacity than we do, for their pharynges were more primitive and they were unable to make as many sounds as we can. (Non-European "Neanderthals" had more developed pharynges.) From the scratches left on Neanderthal teeth, anthropologists have inferred that they used knives to cut off meat and carry it to their jaws, with their right hands, which would make them right-handed. Handedness indicates a brain differentiation, which in turn indicates the ability to speak.

Neanderthals were also able to use fire, which they carried about with them in soft clay (they had not developed pottery making). Hearths of stone in caves go back more than 100,000 years.

The most endearing and "human" practice of the Neanderthals was their ritual of burying the dead, which indicates a feeling for an afterlife, an abstraction. Some Neanderthal skeletons were interred with tools and food for the journey into death and were surrounded with objects of magic (cave-bear skulls or ibex horns). In Shanidar Cave, anthropologist Ralph Solecki recently found fossil pollen buried with a body nearly 60,000 years ago. Arlette Leroi-Gourham of Paris, who analyzed it, found that it came from flowers like present-day grape hyacinths, bachelor's buttons, and hollyhocks. From its position, anthropologists could tell that the man was buried on a bed of flowers, with more flowers strewn on top of him, and with others entwined in a wreath of pinelike branches.

What happened to the Neanderthals? Fossils with characteristics of both Neanderthals and modern people have been found in Africa and Palestine. Were they hybrids? Or were they beings in the flux of evolutionary change? It is, as yet, an unanswered question. And so is this one: Do we have Neanderthal genes?

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