Monday, November 05, 2007

The caveman in the mirror?

Meredith Small presents a humorous essay on "the scariest thing about Neanderthals."

The gist of her argument is that, despite their rough facades,

...these ancient fellow Europeans were also culturally sophisticated. They buried their dead, built shelters, made tools, used fire and hunted. The may have had language (DNA sequencing has also revealed they carried the FOXP2 gene which is linked to language ability). And they had brains 100 cubic centimeters larger than people today.

And so why have these interesting people been relegated to second-class citizen status?

Because they threaten us.

Neanderthals are chronologically the closest, and the most familiar, example that we have of our kind disappearing off the face of the Earth, and that means we can go too.

Of course, not everybody thinks of Neanderthals as second-class citizens. But, given that many people do, Small's essay is an interesting spin on the long-standing idea that Neanderthals can be argued to embody the us-vs-them perspective in paleoanthropology.


Anne Gilbert said...

Well, you should know by now that in general, we "moderns" are extremely ambivalent, to say the least, about Neandertals. This is why there is, after all this time, still so much controversy swirling about them. It's also why, after all this time, there are still so many "reconstructions" of them, that basically look like upright apes.

Anne Gilbert said...

BTW, I linked this article to my blog, just in case you wanted to know!

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

Hi, Anne.
Thanks for your comments, and thanks for the link on your blog! Much appreciated. I agree that this "ambivalence" is why we're still stuck with the 'hirsute troglodyte' image in the poplar (and even sometimes scientific) press!