Early in the 20th century, two brothers discovered a nearly complete Neanderthal skeleton in a pit inside a cave at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in southwestern France. The discovery raised the possibility that these evolutionary relatives of ours intentionally buried their dead — at least 50,000 years ago, before the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe.
Similar to the changing understanding of the appearance of dinosaurs that I mentioned in my last post, is the changing understanding of the sophistication of Neanderthals. Back in the 80s, Quest For Fire, one of my favorite movies, portrayed them as pretty brutish. But information keeps coming in that they were more like us than previously thought.
This isn’t to say that they were exactly like us. There were certainly differences. But those differences don’t appear to be nearly as severe as we used to believe. If we could talk with them today, we’d probably consider them to be human. Certainly they were human enough to genetically intermix with our ancestors, at least to some degree. (My 23andMe DNA results show that I’m 3% Neanderthal.)
I find the middle and upper paleolithic fascinating. What kinds of lives did humans live in those times? What were the relations between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals? We’ll probably never know beyond the glimmers we can get from archaeology and studying modern hunter gatherers.
- Treasures of Natural History: Dodos, Darwin’s Pigeons and Neanderthal Skulls (wonderfuloldthings.wordpress.com)
- Evolution news!!! (southofheaven.typepad.com)
- Oldest DNA Found (danailove11.wordpress.com)
- Are we the last Neanderthals? (evolvingorganisms.wordpress.com)
- Oldest human DNA found in Spain (kcci.com)
- Neanderthals and Humans (barbarasreality.wordpress.com)
- New DNA discovery: totally new outlook on evolution (voiceofrussia.com)
- imabonehead: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins – NYTimes.com (nytimes.com)