June 21, 2024

Why do Neanderthals have such a bad reputation? Carlo Moretti, Verona

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Readers answer

Almost certainly the haircut… woodworm20

Neanderthals have a bad reputation largely due to historical misconceptions and outdated stereotypes. Early depictions painted them as brutish, unintelligent and uncivilized, based on the incomplete and misinterpreted fossil evidence available at the time. This view was reinforced by the need to distinguish modern humans as superior and more advanced.

However, recent research has shown that Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than previously thought. They created tools, had a form of language, engaged in symbolic behavior and even bury their dead. The negative image persists in part because of lingering myths and the human tendency to view anything different or extinct as inferior. groangroans

Do Homo sapiens have much better publicists? Sagarmatha1953

I once had a date with a Basque girl and decided I would impress her by learning a little about her culture. Unfortunately, I told her that the Euskara language is Neanderthal instead of Neolithic (shut up, it starts with N and has a TH and an L in it). She was not impressed. alexito

Paige Madison has convincingly argued in recent years that the dismissal of Neanderthals as brutes goes back to the discovery at Feldhofer in the Neander Valley in Germany in 1856. Based on the size and shape of the skull, leading geologists, naturalists and anatomists concluded that the individual must have been a dull brute. For example, Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s bulldog”) said that the skull could only have held “the thoughtless brains of a savage”. Prehistoric

Possibly related to the once dominant school of “Whig History” who sees history as a continuous march of progress and enlightenment that imposes its worldview on prehistory. Seen through that lens, Homo sapiens replace Gay neanderthalensis represents a superior race of humanity taking its rightful place and a necessary step on the road to human perfection. To see Neanderthals as equal to us, only different, and their replacement due to arbitrary factors that made us better suited to the environment than they were, is incompatible with the Whig history worldview. So it became convenient to portray them as backward and primitive, just as it became convenient to portray other human cultures in a similar light through racist stereotyping. ProjectXRay

Because Homo sapiens have an attitude of arrogance towards the rest of the natural world. This is especially shown in our wars, in which only the human cost is commented on and the rest of nature is ignored. I’m sure the same arrogance applied to our Neanderthal cousins. Anthony Reed

Because we allegedly conquered them – or so goes the story I was taught in the 1950s. We made them “different”. And of course, along with the spoils, the victors can write history. Pamela Hall

The answer to the question is simple and complex – it is due to human nature. Humans tend to like conformity in the group they are part of, but they also like variety in those they marry, because nature insists on genetic diversity. In short, people tend to be self-contradictory. “My group is better than your group” has been a recurring theme throughout human history.

Next, consider beliefs and attitudes in the 1500s, when the sociological concept of race first began to emerge. People have tried to define the differences between various ethnic groups, while also trying to explain the perceived superiority of certain ethnic groups over others. Back then (and still too often today) being dark-skinned was considered more primitive and therefore less evolved.

Fast forward to Gibraltar in 1848, when the first mature Neanderthal skull was foundbut was not recognized as a different species from what we now call archaic people. (The skull of a Neanderthal child was found in Belgium in 1829, but it was also not recognized as a related species.) It was after the discovery of a male – in the Neander Valley of Germany in 1856 – that scientists found out the remains were not those of anatomically modern humans. The early Neanderthal discoveries were considered animalistic sub-humans with just enough cognitive ability to scratch fleas while scavenging and eating their own dead.

Evolution as we know it today was first proposed, more or less, in the early 1800s (Lamarckism), with Darwin and Wallace’s version published in 1859. By 1950, evolution was accepted by most biologists.

How does all this relate to the bad reputation to which Neanderthals have been subjected? In simple terms, people often view “older” and “different” as more primitive and essentially less evolved or capable. It doesn’t matter if you can drop a person today into the conditions of 10,000, 50,000, 500,000 or more years ago: most will consider themselves more evolved and better able to survive than the people who knew what they were doing. In essence, hubris makes too many people think they are the epitome of life, even though we are all still evolving (hopefully) toward the next step of what it means to be human. Cameron

I don’t think they do do has a particularly bad reputation! They are not bankers or estate agents… Brutha

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