Convoluted human evolution: Neanderthal character (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Monday, August 22, 2016, 19:54 (1000 days ago) @ David Turell

The story is changing. The more they are studied the more advanced they seem:

"On August 3, 1908, the first near-complete Neanderthal skeleton was discovered in a cave near the village of La Chapelle-aux-Saints in south central France, during a survey of the region's Paleolithic archaeological sites.


"...the La Chapelle discovery was the first Neanderthal specimen found in an original archaeological context and the first to be expertly excavated and carefully studied. Because the body was arranged in a flexed, fetal position and carefully placed in the floor of the cave, excavators argued that fossil—nicknamed the Old Man—had been purposefully buried by his Neanderthal contemporaries.


"Once they had excavated the fossil, the discoverers sent the Old Man remains to Marcellin Boule, an eminent expert in human evolution at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, for careful study.


"Boule concluded that Neanderthals were sad specimens of nature. He argued that the species was stooped in its posture and stunted in its culture. Boule's conclusions quickly turned into the pop-culture caricature that we tend to associated with the Neanderthal species. The image of a hunched, cave-dwelling lout barely capable of brandishing a club quickly caught the public's imagination in the early 20th century.


"Today, we're rather used to the idea that Neanderthals had a vibrant culture, but science and society's acceptance of each new piece of the Neanderthal story is an uphill battle, thanks to the Old Man's early days in the public's eye. We now have archaeological evidence that Neanderthals built structures; that they had sophisticated hunting strategies, fire-starting technologies, and art; and, of course, that they buried their dead. Analyses of Neanderthal DNA show us more and more similarities between ourselves and Neanderthals, with every indication that modern humans and Neanderthals interbred in their evolutionary history. Every “human” behavior we can claim to separate ourselves from our Pleistocene relatives, we eventually find in Neanderthals, blurring the line between human and not.

"Decades of researchers have studied the Old Man since Boule's original analysis. Every new iteration of the Neanderthal's story humanizes him, turning the fossil from a dim troglodyte into a dignified paleo patriarch. The more we study the Old Man, the more the differences between our species melt away."

Comment: Thank goodness research straightened out the misrepresentation. It still doesn't explain fully why they completely died out. Obviously we were more suited for survival, but exactly how is not clear.

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