Finding the Neanderthal within ourselves


Photo by Erich Ferdinand. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Like a disowned half-brother the Neanderthals keep hammering on our door, forcing us to face inconvenient truths.

In the nineteenth century, fossil remains of powerful, thickset, short-necked human-like creatures with massive skulls and protruding brow ridges were found in Europe and recognized as belonging to an extinct species very closely related to us.

It turns out these "Neanderthals" (named after the German valley where the first examples were excavated) left the human homeland in Africa about 300,000 years ago. They migrated north into Europe and had sole possession of our continent for 250,000 years until people like you and I first arrived here, also from Africa, less than 50,000 years ago.

The two species lived side by side, without conflict, for the next 20,000 years -- an amazing achievement -- until suddenly, around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals in eastern Europe began to die out. Whatever was killing them spread like a deadly curse. Soon none were left across the whole of Europe east of the Pyrenees. West of the Pyrenees, small populations clung on in isolated refuges in Spain but by 24,000 years ago these last Neanderthals, too, were extinct.

What caused the extinction? It's a great unsolved problem of science. But ever since we started finding the fossils we've been desperate to convince ourselves of one thing. It must have happened because of something inferior, something subhuman, about the Neanderthals themselves. Libraries full of scholarly books tell us they were slow-witted, with brains too simple to handle symbolism or intellectual gymnastics. We're told they had no art, couldn't speak, made inferior stone tools, possessed none of the finer feelings for which we humans pride ourselves and didn't even bury their dead.

So effective has this propaganda been that the word Neanderthal is synonymous for many with bestial, knuckle-dragging stupidity and has been elevated to a noun in wide general use meaning "an unenlightened and ignorant person."

But the picture is changing. We now know that Neanderthal brains were bigger and potentially more sophisticated than our own. There is new evidence that they used body paint, makeup and beads -- sure signs of symbolic thinking -- and that they did bury their dead, sometimes with flowers. The discovery in Slovenia of a Neanderthal flute carved 43,000 years ago from the femur of a cave bear means they had music after all. The notion that they couldn't speak has proved to be based on a misunderstanding of Neanderthal anatomy. And DNA studies have shown that the FOXP2 gene, linked to language in humans, was also present in Neanderthals.

But one old prejudice long remained unchallenged -- the dogma that humans and Neanderthals never interbred. Now the latest DNA evidence, widely reported during 2010, has demonstrated that interbreeding did take place -- and on a significant scale. As much as four per cent of our genes are thought to have come from Stone Age liaisons between Neanderthals and humans.

Why should we be surprised? Despite their robust, powerful physiques and their mastery of Ice Age Europe, the Neanderthals did not attack our ancestors when they first arrived as vulnerable new immigrants 50,000 years ago. On the contrary the two groups managed to live side by side in peace -- and now we know in love -- for 20,000 years.

201010200946 I've placed the mystery of what happened next at the heart of Entangled, my first work of fiction. It's a fantasy-adventure, timeslip novel set part in the twenty-first century, part in the Stone Age. Brindle is a young Neanderthal man and Ria a young human woman living in northern Spain twenty-four thousand years ago at the time of the final extinction. They're caught up in a cosmic battle of good against evil, and supernatural forces bring them together with Leoni, a troubled teen in modern Los Angeles, to confront a demon who travels through time and seeks to destroy mankind.

I felt the essential humanity of the Neanderthals reaching out to me as I wrote, urging me to explore the possibility that they were highly evolved spiritual beings, pure innocence and love -- perhaps less competent with material things than we are, but far ahead of us in matters of spirit. In my story their goodness is raw cosmic power that they use only for healing, to communicate telepathically with one another and to live in balance with the Earth. Beauty and truth shine forth from them but it is precisely these qualities that attract the demon's attention and make him seek their destruction. If he succeeds, the psychic charge he draws from their mass murder will allow him to manifest physically in the twenty-first century and weave the doom of all mankind.

We still don't know how or why the Neanderthals became extinct -- although genocide at the hands of our ancestors remains the most likely explanation. We do know that when they were gone from the earth the long era of peace and harmony ended and the age of turmoil and tribulation in which we still live today began.

Perhaps the big question for the future is this. Are we about to weave our own doom and plunge our beautiful Earth forever into darkness? Or is there still time, now that we know the truth about our genes, to find the Neanderthal within ourselves and reconnect with spirit?


  1. The archaeologists are still arguing about the Neanderthals – the latest dating of the Grotte du Renne site suggests that the middle layer of artefacts there, which had been attributed to them, might not have been produced by Neanderthals after all, as some were produced only 21,000 years ago.
    (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi:10.1073/pnas.1007963107)

    And they’re still having a debate over whether the Divje babe bone is even a flute or not.

  2. If this is a tl;dr for you, I’ll summarize: the scientific controversy over neanderthal intelligence is legitimate controversy based on inconclusive evidence and not propaganda. Neanderthals, while impressive, where likely far less cognitively advanced than humans.

    I’ve studied human evolution in a couple of courses (one on the archaeology of sacred sites and one on the evolution of the music capacity) and I’m sorry to report that the science indicating the “inferiority” of neanderthals is anything but propaganda.

    Bigger brains: Although their brains were bigger, they were still smaller in comparison to their body size. The encephalization quotient is a measure of brain size/ body size. Humans have an EQ of The EQ of 5.4 while neanderhtals had one of 4.8. Not a huge difference, but big enough to account for the fact that in the 220,000 years between the Neanderthals’ fist use of stone tools and their extinction, their industry and social structure remained virtually unchanged.

    Stone Beads: About 30,000 years ago neanderthals began using stone beads that looked just like those of the humans who entered Europe at about the same time. Until that time they showed no evidence of symbolic thinking. What’s more likely? That they happened to make a huge cognitive leap at just that time or that they started copying humans?

    Body paint: The only evidence for body paint that we have is shells showing pigment residues, sticks of the black pigment manganese found at sites of habitation. Were these used as body paint? Maybe. Can we know? No. Does artificial body pigmentation necessarily imply symbolic thinking? Nope. They could just as easily have been using it to enlarge their eyes to scare away predators. We’ll never know.

    Burial of dead: This is a huge controversy in the field of sacred archaeology. There is by no means a scientific consensus. There is ONE cluster of neanderthal remains known as Shanidar IV where the bodies SEEM to have been arranged and where flowers (some with medicinal properties) have been found alongside the bodies. Seems like a burial, right? Incidentally, there is a small mammal, the jird, which lives in mounds just like this one and is known to store large amounts of seeds and flowers in its burrows. The original report indicated that many such burrows were found around the site. Symbolic thinking or a hungry jird? We’ll never know.

    The Neanderthal flute: Even Steven Mithen, author of the book “The Singing Neanderthals,” points out that this “flute” is far more likely to be the remains of a roving predator’s snack. The two holes found in the femur bone are identical to those left by the teeth of carnivorous animals. No other neanderthal “flute” has ever been found, whereas plenty of identical-looking chewed up femurs have.

    1. I’ve been to Slovenia, and I’ve seen the Divje bone, sitting in Ljubljana’s shamefully quiet National Museum. In person, it is almost impossible to resist the conclusion that you’re looking at a flute. It has a very raw, almost talismanic power. And yeah, of course it’s possible it’s a random artifact created by a bored wolf. But you have to really fight your gut instinct to look at the Divje bone and think that.

      And let’s not get too excited about EQ. Your brain is about 2 percent of your body weight, but a hummingbird is about 4 percent brain.

    2. On the subject of whether Neanderthals were capable of independent innovation or if they just copied cultural practices from modern humans, there’s an interesting blog post here by an archaeologist summarizing a recent paper where he concluded that there is geographic evidence for independent innovations:

      Make sure to check out the comments section, where some well-informed commentators suggest alternate interpretations of the same evidence.

    3. The scientist who dubbed this a “flute” needs to retire. A scientist who starts seeing what s/he want’s to see can be dangerous. This whole “flute” thing can only be proved one way: Deep and thoughtful inspection of the holes. This needs to be done by someone who has never seen or heard of this (possible)artifact: fat chance.

      How can anyone forget the 41 year hoax of the “Piltdown Man”? All those scientist saw what they wanted to see. I’ll stop my “jawing”.

  3. “We do know that when they were gone from the earth the long era of peace and harmony ended and the age of turmoil and tribulation in which we still live today began.”

    This is very poetic, but it falls to the same fallacy that plagues much of modern thinking: that “primitive” cultures (Amerinds and the like) were peaceful and loving until us humans/europeans/whatever showed up and killed them. Avatar is a prime example of this nonsense. The fact is that the Neanderthals evolved from the same primate ancestor we did, and they were probably very similar to early humans in many ways. It is just as likely that the mixing of genes was a result of non-consensual sex as it was a part of “loving” relationships.

  4. Whoa, whoa, “old dogma” that humans and Neanderthals didn’t interbreed? That’s new dogma, I thought it was assumed that there may have been some interbreeding, until the initial genetic evidence appeared to rule it out in the 1990s. It was really unclear prior to that point whether we were part Neanderthal, with theories either way. The more recent evidence that you refer to has called that initial ruling into question, but there’s still significant uncertainty about this.

    Almost all of your assertions about conflict or lack thereof between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens sapiens have little to no evidence behind them. Claiming that existing science supports your human/Neanderthal interaction theories is probably not a good call here. What it doesn’t do is rule them out completely.

      1. Believe it or not, I was aware of this, and referred to the article he’s talking about. Your article is still referring to the May story, and again, at this point it’s the most likely explanation, but in no way set in stone.

      2. A more in-depth article (again, most likely that humans and Neanderthals interbred, but it’s not thoroughly proven yet):

        We’re still not talking about a large chunk of the modern human genome. This is not the major point I was arguing, though, which is that most of his other suggestions about the basic nature of Neanderthals, and human-Neanderthal interactions, are not well-supported at all. Interbreeding is, relatively, one of the more well-supported points!

        1. Rather, the Neandertal sequence was equally close to sequences from present-day people from France, Papua New Guinea and China,
          Geez how did they get back to to PNG? I just can’t picture it happing in the last 500 or 600 years of European exploration of Oceania.

  5. “urging me to explore the possibility that they were highly evolved spiritual beings, pure innocence and love — perhaps less competent with material things than we are, but far ahead of us in matters of spirit. In my story their goodness is raw cosmic power that they use only for healing, to communicate telepathically with one another and to live in balance with the Earth.”

    Isn’t that kinda the usual stereotype the west has about First Nations/American Natives/Indian peoples

    “the Neanderthals did not attack our ancestors when they first arrived as vulnerable new immigrants 50,000 years ago.”

    How do we know this? All the tribes on this earth live side by side, but attacks happen with alarming frequency.

    The other odd thing about this “Hey the Neanderthals may have been MORE ‘advanced’ then we are” is what is says about the evidence that all humans except native Africans have descent from Neanderthal genes. So everyone except Africans have genes of homo neanderthalensis superior.

    That would seem to have troubling implications.

    1. Yeah, that last bit of reasoning struck me too. While Africa is Homo Sapiens only which according to Mr. Hancock is a vicious warring kind, Europeans have a dash of Neanderthal genes making us more related to “highly evolved spiritual beings” than to the rest of the world. Notice Hancock’s fatalism, being warring or peaceful is in fact embedded in our very species, not a result of environmental factors (i.e. not enough food to go around). So if you are all Homo Sapiens and not partly Neanderthal, you’re just gonna be evil, that’s it.
      Let Hancock’s ideas simmer for a few decades in an economically depressed Europe and we might have the whole Social Darwinism, colonialist, Nazi/racial superiority crap happening all over again.
      Want another go at the Holocaust in 50 years time? Yeah sure, just make sure you select your victims according to proportion of “advanced and enlightened” Neanderthal genes.

      1. FWIW, Hancock is writing a work of imagination, and there’s really no basis for thinking the Neanderthals had any ‘spiritual’ advantage, but its an interesting thought experiment. Its not an idea with much legs, any more than anyone will base a ideology on the characteristics of imagined moon men.

        I was also reminded of a novel Neanderthal by one John Darton, which also postulated that the Ns (found alive living in a remote part of asia) were more spiritual and possessed psychic powers.

  6. Let’s see here..they chilled out for a quarter million years and never impacted the world upon which they lived..we’ve been kicking around for 50,000 years and have managed to trash the joint.

    Yeah expect a alien world-buster any day now..

  7. We now know that Neanderthal brains were bigger and potentially more sophisticated than our own.

    I thought we also knew brain size is only a measure of intelligence to a first approximation, one the neanderthals and us are too close to separate. Nobody claims mammoths were as smart as either, despite their still larger brain.

    To determine how sophisticated brains are we have to look indirectly at behavior. Here the neanderthals are very impressive, and it turns out more so than you’d expect at first; but it is hard to tell how they match up with Cro-Magnon.

    In truth, I’ve never really heard the “neanderthals are studid” bit outside pop culture. They’re usually portrayed as right near the top, smarter than all the other animals except one, better at making tools than all the other animals except one.

    Speech and burial of dead have been questions for as long as I’ve lived, but everybody expects their behavior and societies should be at least as complex as chimpanzees. Incidentally, calling someone a chimp is usually an insult, too, despite their obvious cunning.

    Whether or not Homo sapiens and neanderthals interbred has been debated for my whole life, too. It is of course a question of how similar we were, not how smart they were. We could discover a mammoth-run nuclear reactor, and it still wouldn’t make us compatible. So finding the two have interbred may be surprising to some, but because of what they guessed about neanderthal DNA, not their brains.

    I’m curious where the idea neanderthals are peaceful comes from. Most truly smart animals are flexible enough to become either friendly or hostile, depending on what they learn. Since violence is often hard to contain, and is common among the other apes, the idea that thousands upon thousands all chose to be noble savages is a little hard to believe.

  8. Hmm…neanderthals are an older race, less cunning with devices than humans but more peaceful and spiritual. They lived alongside us in harmony, sharing their wisdom and love with those who would have them. But not all humans would listen, and in the end they fell back to war and cruelty; besides which the many people to the South and the East were never enlightened by the neanderthals at all. As the millennia past, their influence waned, and in the end they have vanished, we know not where.

    It does sound like a good story that a demon would try to destroy them and use their power to take over the world; I only hope he is not defeated by Homo floresiensis, because I’ve already read that one.

  9. Sorry Mr. Hancock, but I already beat you to it. :-)

    If you’re wondering, in my novel the Neanderthals don’t go extinct but inadvertently appear to go extinct by changing their burial rites – largely due to the discovery of gold. Burying ones dead is fine just so long as all the flowers and beads that one is buried with also lose their value. The discovery of gold and its impressive durability inspires grave robbing and derision inside the tribe, so to keep the peace the Neanderthals take to cremating their dead in giant funeral pyres and then dividing up the melted gold soon afterwards among the surviving family members. This practice also causes them to disappear from the fossil record. Poof! Neanderthals disappear.

    Still, even though we don’t agree on the plight of the Neanderthal, Entangled sounds intriguing and I’ll be sure to pick up a copy.

  10. 30000 to 24000 equals 6000 years, or roughly twice the entirety of recorded history. That doesn’t sound like overnight extinction to me. A lot can happen in 200 generations.

    1. Yeah, you managed to put the point against genocide more succinctly and to the point than I did. Kudos.

  11. I was nodding my head in agreement to this article until I got towards the end. Neanderthals were “more spiritual beings”? How could you know that? The whole being connected to the cosmos shtick strikes me as just more New-Agey kumbaya nonsense, not really related to what the extant archaeological evidence can really tell us. Not only does it remind me of the “noble savage” trope, but it also smacks of, eg, Gimbutas extrapolating an entire Mother Goddess religion and “peaceful” ethos from some tiny stone/clay figures of women found throughout Europe. Archaeologists have to be very careful when interpreting artifacts to avoid letting personal beliefs inform your interpretation. In other words: there is only so much the archaeological records can tell us in the absence of writing, and detailed religious outlooks/worldviews are not usually one of them.

    I was also put off by this statement: “We still don’t know how or why the Neanderthals became extinct — although genocide at the hands of our ancestors remains the most likely explanation.” What evidence do you have that this is the case? In fact, I’d posit this as least likely, simply for the reason that Neanderthals’ bones were more robust than ours, which likely meant they had superior musculature. Not only that, but keep in mind that the human population of Europe at this time would have been pretty low to begin with, and foraging bands tend to be very small, around 10-30 people. Conscious genocide of an entire species would probably have been beyond the social and logistical capabilities of paleolithic H. sapiens. Unless you have some weaker definition of “genocide” that I’m not aware of.

    1. It wouldn’t be the first species H. sapiens sapiens helped wipe out, though, and definitely not the last.

    2. *nod* yeah, exactly! urging me to explore the possibility that they were highly evolved spiritual beings, pure innocence and love — perhaps less competent with material things than we are, but far ahead of us in matters of spirit. Puh-lease! Graham, you couldn’t be playing on the noble savage trope any harder if you’d actually said “they were noble savages”!

      1. Perhaps they were. That doesn’t say anything about us…after all, they were a whole other species.

  12. Thanks for the picture. I’ll handle this.

    MIKE! Quit leaning on that broom and get to work. This sidewalk isn’t going to sweep itself.

  13. “And DNA studies have shown that the FOXP2 gene, linked to language in humans, was also present in Neanderthals”

    This is not surprising, since the FOXP2 gene is found in the genomes of all mammalian species (e.g. mice). The proper way to state this is that Neanderthals had the same allele (version) of FOXP2 as humans do, which differs from that of chimps by two amino acids.

  14. I feel a bit duped as this interesting narrative quickly converted itself into a commercial for a book to buy.

  15. Why is it so hard to believe that any intelligent being will NOT bury its dead? Is it so hard to reason?

    A member of your close knit group dies, either by accident or disease. You are not going to eat the body, and you certainly are not going to stand there watching it rot.

    So we cover it with something, and in a place where dirt is abundant, we cover it with that. But this body is not just rotting flesh, its something you loved, something that cared for you, that hunted and gathered next to you, something that belonged to you. You are not just going to dump it in a hole, you are going to show some respect, you are going to care for the body that once held someone you loved. So you are going to place a few pretty things next to it, like flowers, or shiny rocks, or feathers, or whatever he or she liked when alive.

    What about his belongings? I want to keep his shoes. No, I made those shoes for him, not you. Ill make some for you if you want to, but those shoes stay with him. And what about his flint axe? Ive always wanted that one for me. Hell no! You tried to steal it once from him. He would never wanted you to have it. And I dont want you to have it, so its also going into the pit. And Im going to keep an eye on you. If you try to dig it out Im going to crack your head open.

    Intelligence, whether from modern humans or ancient humans or neanderthals, is just the capacity to understand, create and recall concepts and ideas. Just because they didnt had industrially produced tools or math or scientific methods does not means that they where dumb. Anything you know now could have been taught to someone 50k years ago. I use this sharp rock to cut this skin into strips. It doesnt takes much intelligence to realize that my hand is sore after a whole afternoon of doing it, and it doesnt take any more intelligence to realize that, if I wrapped some of those strips to the non-pointy side of the rock, it would be smoother on my skin. Voilá, Grog has just invented a handle.

    The notion of “Me-caveman-me-dumb” is just ridiculous.

  16. I think it’s good to note that we’re dealing with science fiction here, except that instead of projecting notions into the void of the future, Hancock is projecting them into the prehistoric void of the past.

    While it’s true that every world history book has something definite to say about this time period – it is usually noticeably quite short – and that’s because we simply don’t know a lot about it, not nearly as much as most professional (and some amateur) academics would be comfortable admitting to.

    Hippy Neanderthals?
    Why not?

    Just because you have to hunt to eat doesn’t automatically turn you into a fascist bastard. In truth, in my book (, I actually turn Ice Age Europe into something of a Garden of Eden, a place where man (all kinds) lived without sin or doubt not because they were better than the people of today (or smarter or dumber) but because they didn’t know of any other way to live. Countless generations had fine tuned their hunter/gatherer lifestyles to perfectly fit their ecological niche. No one ever sat around the campfire after a long and tiresome hunt thinking, “This sucks. Grok should have been accountant.” And if freedom from such questioning doesn’t make for a happier and more spiritually sound person then what does?

    Now was it this that way?
    I don’t know.
    I would like to think so, and I do honestly suspect that it was.
    It’s called Fiction people.

    F i c t i o n.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to read a post with “Science says this. Now, I decided to take it a step further in my fiction…” and then, when other posters notice that science doesn’t say that, belittle them for not thinking the whole thing was meant to be fiction.

  17. Another data point is the lack of non-local tool materials in Neanderthal sites. While their contemporaries the Cro-Mags used materials (flints, for instance) that originated sometimes 100s of miles from their homes, the Neanderthals only used local materials. As the long-distance materials could not be gathered by walking they more likely acquired through trade. Neanderthal’s lack of materials implies to me a lack of complex communication. Perhaps you could make a case for an extreme xenophobia but then I’d expect to see more evidence of inter-group (or inter-species) conflict.

  18. The last found remains of Neanderthal were from 24 thousand years
    ago- in my opinion they lived on untill much more recent times,
    retreating deep into the forests of germany where it will be difficult to find any trace of them.
    In folklore Trolls were short,powerful,hairy humanlike creatures
    who lived in the woods and were best avoided.
    would these modern memories of Neanderthals have been kept for 24 thousand years? or did the tales of a thousand years ago relate to encounters with these people 4 to 5 thousand years before.

  19. I am really surprised that no one has mentioned The Inheritors by William Golding. He did write more than Lord of the Flies! In Golding’s work the evil modern humans killed off the innocent Neanderthals without needing any encouragement from a demon. Otherwise it is very similar to what Hancock has written.

  20. “We do know that when they were gone from the earth the long era of peace and harmony ended and the age of turmoil and tribulation in which we still live today began.”

    Oh, we do, do we? Who in the world, other than acid-tripping airheads, ever argued that?

  21. To all whom this concerns… c’mon!
    The fact of the matter remains argument is fruitless. NO ONE REALLY “KNOWS”! None of us were there (that we are aware of…yet) It is great to strut intellectual corrections, but the truth is they are as much conjecture as what one is attempting to correct. Academia is still teaching, publishing, and arguing over the “fact” the pyramids were built by thousands of ancient Egyptians rolling 20 ton blocks of stone miles from their quarries using “big” logs and pulling them into hyper accurate place with rope by hand. Academia is not known for teaching cutting edge theory, much less theory that rocks the established/preferred/accepted hypothesis (remember “funding”). The point is, it all remains theory/conjecture – we don’t know.
    And what is knowing? We are dealing with human intellect/reasoning. I refer all concerned to the ancient dilemma of 6 people observing/experiencing the same accident. Need I remind anyone that no one agrees with the “facts” because each person experiences the event from their own intellectual perspective. Who is right? who is wrong? Who can say? They are all right from the stand point of their own consciousness.
    Of one thing we can be sure. There are a number of incidents, events, details that a)do not add up in terms of human history or what we have been taught/conditioned to believe; b) there appear to be concerted efforts to keep the majority of people from putting 2+2 together to understand such incidents, events, details; c) there is significant evidence of destruction of evidence that contradicts the status quo stories (kinda sounds like conspiracy theory, huh? Sigh). We’re still hearing about official “weather balloon” sightings for crying out loud, as if the status quo is still trying to convince us we’re the only one’s in the universe! The status quo are going to be among the last “authorities/experts” to realize UFO’s are an accepted phenomenon.
    The point is I don’t know a thing. I suggest this may be a far healthier perspective to adopt. That which we argued in favor of yesterday: “I’m not kidding! The world IS flat!” are generally the things we scoff at tomorrow. Let us not forget in our heated controversies it was not so long ago people were burned at the stake for just such absurdities. And quite frankly our most prized knowledge may all be simple fantasy in the end. It is all perspective.
    I agree with Mark Twain, who said, “It isn’t what we don’t know that hurts us, but what we know for certain… that isn’t so.” There is a lot of that going around- the bane of education. I believe it is far better to question what I think I “know” and mean while entertaining all other possibilities… even if only for entertainment’s sake. Little comes from taking ourselves Soooooooooooooooooo seriously.

  22. I love science, and I love science fiction. I don’t expect the fiction to always be true to the science.

    But this writeup is misleading, and I think that’s what people are reacting to. It starts off as a writeup about what science knows about Neanderthals, and it makes some claims that are highly suspect.

    The writeup then turns into a commercial for a book, where there is this hypothesis that Neanderthals were beings of spirit, which has no basis in science. I tend to think any “pure being’ hypothesis is overly simplistic and likely to be wrong, but whatever – hypothesis are okay in sci-fi.

    The next problem is that the blurb ends up taking the hypothesis as science fact, “Or is there still time, now that we know the truth about our genes, to find the Neanderthal within ourselves and reconnect with spirit?”

    Now look – I’ve done a vision quest. I care about soul and spirit. But the attribution of spirit solely to Neanderthals is not a way to dispel myths about them; it’s an attempt to try to start a new one.

  23. I should say, also, that spirituality was actually a result of high brain function. In order to have traditionally spiritual beliefs, beings need to be able to imagine a future and a past beyond them. They need to be able to imagine a “spirit” beyond the body.

    From what I have read about the actual scientific discoveries, it is far more likely that spirituality was something humans were able to engage in, but that Neanderthals couldn’t. Lovelystrangeness is right, that more evidence suggests that Neanderthals were crudely copying humans than that they were innovating in the realm of the spiritual.

  24. The two species lived side by side, without conflict, for the next 20,000 years…

    Oh come on. Humans couldn’t live alongside butterflies for 20,000 years without some kind of conflict, let alone other humans. Just because we haven’t yet found a fossilized fight scene doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

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