Neanderthals first appeared in the fossil record about 300,000 years ago, then died out approximately 24,000 years or so ago. Hence, for many years modern human beings shared the Earth with another species of human. The questions about this now extinct human species continue to nag and inspire theory after theory.
Did Homo sapiens and Neanderthals mate with one another? How advanced were the Neanderthals? Did they have speech? Did they have art, jewelry, body painting, as seems to be the case from some limited evidence turned up in recent digs? (1) Did humans and Neanderthals coexist peacefully, or did Homo sapiens commit mass genocide upon their close relatives?
One interesting theory about why the Neanderthals died out is because they’d been cut off from the rest of humanity in Africa, as they’d moved up and into Europe 150,000 years before modern humans began their own migration. Therefore, the argument goes, Neanderthal immune systems could not cope with the many diseases that had evolved during their absence from Africa, leaving them defenseless and eventually, dead. (2)
There are intriguing traces in the archaeological evidence that confirm Neanderthals were not stupid, uncreative, nor uncultured. In the Shanidar Cave, in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq, excavated in the 1950’s, Smithsonian archaeologist Ralph Solecki, along with Kurdish workers and a team from Colombia University uncovered Neanderthal skeletons, children and adults. One of the Neanderthal skeletons showed definite evidence that he had been buried with flowers, due to pollen traces discovered in his carefully dug grave. (3)
There is plenty of evidence that Neanderthals took care of the infirm and injured, and cared for their elders as well. They also seem to have developed music and created complicated flute-like instruments. In 2000, a 50,000-year-old flute was found in the Neanderthal section of a cave in Slovenia, most likely of the recorder type. (4) To create such an instrument would call for levels of dexterity, intelligence and creativity that most mainstream archaeology has been hesitant to grant to the Neanderthals. (5)
Recent evidence has confirmed that Neanderthals may even have decorated their bodies, not just with body paints but with actual makeup and jewelry. Make up containers belonging to Neanderthals have been found in two separate archaeological sites in Murcia, Spain, by a team from Bristol University. (6)
New DNA evidence released on 6 May 2010 proves conclusively that Neanderthals and humans did interbreed and that modern humans owe between 1 and 4 per cent of their DNA to Neanderthals. (7) The causes of the extinction of the Neanderthals around 24,000 years ago remain unknown.
- http://www.scribd.com/doc/7123765/121-Neanderthal; 121 Neanderthal: Who Were the Neanderthals? ^
- http://www.scribd.com/doc/25131661/The-%E2%80%9CNeanderthal-Enigma%E2%80%9D-and-the-Structure-of-Thought; “The Neanderthal Enigma and the Structure of Thought”; by John MacBeath Watkins. ^
- http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/The-Skeletons-of-Shanidar-Cave.html; “The Skeletons of Shanidar Cave; by Owen Edwards”; Smithsonian Magazine, March 2010. ^
- http://www.exploratorium.edu/aaas-2000/0221_dispatch_flutes.html; “Music of the Neanderthals,” by Mary K. Miller; Dispatches From the Field, AAAS, 2000 ^
- http://www.sciencenetlinks.com/sci_update.php?DocID=37; “Stone Age Tunes?” American Association for the Advancement of Science; Bob Hirshon. ^
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8448660.stm; “Neanderthal Makeup Containers Found; BBC News; January 9, 2010 ^