Tuesday, April 16, 2013
When you say the name, "Neanderthal" to most anyone, an image is conjured up of a primitive ape-man with no connection to Homosapiens, whatsoever. In the past, scientists often taught that the Neanderthal was an off-shoot species with no descendants; an extinct race of savages. Of course, modern science has only really scratched the surface when it comes to these mysterious people, and the more we uncover the more it is revealed that past speculation about them is often false.
The first major misconception is that Neanderthals have no descendants. Modern genetic testing has proven this isn't the case. If you are of European or Asian descent, then you are part Neanderthal. It's a small amount, generally around 2-3 percent, but this proves that the Neanderthal race didn't completely die out. It is quite possible they were instead "bred out," meaning they were absorbed into the modern human population.
Another major fallacy is the concept that they were a very primitive and backwards race. True, by today's standards, they were primitive, but for their day and age they were at the cutting edge of societal evolution. Their brain size wasn't much different than ours today, giving them the same mental potential as Homosapiens. They used fire, made advanced tools (for their day), and ate vegetables in addition to the animals they killed. Excavations have also proven that they performed some of the first burial rites. The Neanderthals often put flowers and other decoration with their dead, burying them much as we do today. Perhaps our modern tradition of a "wake" really comes from these forgotten ancestors.
The suspected outward appearance of Neanderthals has changed in recent years, as well. They are no longer believed to have been hairy, ape-like creatures, but something that more closely resembled modern Europeans. They likely had pale skin and no more or less body hair than your average white guy has today. They were more stocky, and had much larger eyes than we do, all the better to survive in cold, dim climates. Some wacky scientists recently speculated that their large eyes made them slow and stupid, meaning their enhanced eyesight was principally to blame for their ultimate decline. However, that is just a wild assumption with little to no empirical evidence to back it up.
There is still much that is unknown about the Neanderthals, and modern scientists keep speculating to fill in the large gaps in their knowledge. Many theories will go by the wayside over time, yet amidst the mysteries and conjecture there will arise little tidbits of truth. Perhaps one day we'll know enough about these forgotten people that we don't consider them to be horrific cavemen, but the precursor to ourselves.