Now, I'm sure it was unintentional, but this cracked me up: as the narrator announces "Today, it’s obvious who dominates the planet" and pauses, the video cues to a shot of John standing in the middle of Times Square(?), looking straight into the camera! And it's only fitting, really, considering the refreshing perspective Hawks brings to the debate over competition between the two hominin groups (transcripted by yours truly):
"It would be insane to go out and pick a fight. You’re not a military organization going in, looking to conquer. You’re a small group yourself. You sort of have to find a way to live with the locals and, as you do that, you learn from them to some extent. And the locals learn from you.
I feel like the defense attorney for the Neanderthals sometimes. I’m trying to see the ways that they overlap with us and trying to add complexity to the story because any story that involves things happening over a continent over thousands of years has got to be complicated."
Good little video, overall, though I was a bit aggravated by the conclusions narrated towards the end of the video: "Fossils are inconclusive, the answer lies in DNA." Well, no, actually. DNA provides some information, fossils provide other types of information and archaeology provides yet other information, all of which is necessary and complementary to reach an adequate understanding of this process. I hammer this a lot to my students and in my work, but it really cheapens the practice of physical anthropology and archaeology when they're considered only as icing on the interpretive cake of evolutionary genetics. Bones and stones (to simplify) are not just ancillary evidence: they're critically important sources of data that need to be accounted for fully as opposed to simply made to fit in the models derived from other disciplines. It's often all too tempting to grant greater weight to the conclusions of disciplines that are more directly grounded in the life sciences, but it's important to realize that they're also fraught with internal tensions and debates and wide-ranging differences in interpretation.
This ties in neatly with the second NG item, namely a report on a new reconstruction of a Neanderthal female. Here's a shot of this beauty:
But what you should really check out is the set of photos related to this reconstruction. Five pictures in, there's an especially great shot of the Neanderthal woman (nicknamed Wilma) thrusting a spear and sporting an extensive set of black tattoos on her back and upper chest. Now, why is this so neat (beyond being the closest thing to Neanderthal fetish/alterna-porn you're likely to ever see - I mean, it's a naked chick with tats and a weapon!)? Because the reconstruction is based on genetics, skeletal anatomy and archaeology. You have the genetics that have informed the artists about the likely hair and skin color of the Neanderthal. You have the skeletal morphology dictating the overall look and posture of the thing. And finally, you have the archaeology contributing some additional behavioral information. In this specific case, the reconstruction draws on discussions about the fact that Neanderthal females may have been integral to large game procurement strategies (i.e., no sexual division of labor) and on the fact that Neanderthals appear to have used manganese as a coloring material to on their skin. Kudos to the artists for artfully integrating all three lines of evidence!