Did the average Neanderthal know she had a brother-in-law?


15 Responses to “Did the average Neanderthal know she had a brother-in-law?”

  1. MonkeyBoy says:

    We know nothing about the sexual social structure of Neanderthals and such would be very hard to discover.

    Did they live in bands like chimps or harems like gorillas?

    If in bands did they have mostly monogamous pair bonding like humans or was it just one big family where males tried to mate with as many females (or the “best” females) as chimps do.

    If one could find lots of Neanderthal skeletons, scientists could DNA test them to see how many had the same pair of parents which would give some information on the sexual social structure but not enough to give a clear picture.

    • Mordicai says:

       I wouldn’t say we know nothing; looking at kin groups & doing gene testing on the bones says something about patrilocal & matrilocal patterns, for instance.  Or you know, the sexes present in a tribe.  We have some notions!

      • MonkeyBoy says:

         Do you have any references to actual studies or are just guessing there may be some. As far as I know the skeletal finds are too sparse for such studies.

        We do know that some Neanderthal skeletons show asymmetry but don’t really know what caused it. For a comparison of two guesses see: PLOS:Neandertal Humeri May Reflect Adaptation to Scraping Tasks, but Not Spear Thrusting, but there is not enough data to decide this or even the question of whether skin scraping was performed more by one sex than the other. Combining this with an earlier assumption that asymmetry indicated maleness may mean that many partial skeletons were improperly sexed.

        • Mordicai says:

          I am specifically thinking of a few things I read in “How to Think Like a Neandertal” recently, but I don’t have the book in front of me to check the bibliography out.

    • Ipo says:

      Neanderthals were not like humans, they were humans. 
      We don’t know how Homo sapiens neanderthalensis structured their sex -, social – and family life. 
      In fact, there are those that try to define marriage in the remaining hybrid species Homo sapiens sapiens.

  2. awjt says:

    What an unfortunate graphic.  Or fortunate, depending on who you are.

  3. partlyneanderthal says:

    Can someone wiser than me answer me this: If humans and neanderthals mated, and modern humans carry neanderthal DNA, then  the fact that they left descendants means they most certainly did not go extinct. Or if the argument is that they ceased to be a separate species or lineage, then wouldn’t that also apply to “us,” as we would then be hybrids of the two lineages of hominids?

    • No, even if they have left a lineage in modern humans they are still extinct. As a separate species (or sub-species there is still some debate there) with a specific set of characteristics they no longer exist even though they may have left descendants.

      Here’s an absurd analogy that came to mind. Assume for a moment that we had proof that the modern chicken was a direct descendant of a sub-group of T. rex. That wouldn’t mean that T. rex isn’t extinct or make chickens T. rexes.

  4. John Verne says:

    Please, let’s not give the many, many learned “joiners” short-shrift. It is not proven one way or the other whether or not neanderthals were actually different species, or in the process of speciating, or just robust versions of contemporary homo.

    Articles like this present the assumption that the “splitters” are correct, and it is a done deal. It just isn’t.

    Taxonomy is tricky thing, and doing it based only on bones and artefacts is trickier yet.

  5. Antinous / Moderator says:

    I had been under the impression that even Homo sapiens didn’t figure out that sex led to childbirth until a few thousand years ago, so that would put a damper on any understanding of relationships.

    • We apparently already had that down by the time written language came about so it’s probably difficult if not impossible to figure out when we made the connection, that’s not really a part of culture that is going to leave many traces.

  6. niktemadur says:

    Short scene from a Stone Age backyard BBQ, meads in hand.

    Homo Sapiens:  “…and this is my sister’s husband’s cousin’s wife, who…”
    Neanderthal:  “…aaand…! ya lost me”

  7. Hannah T says:

    Why the ‘brother-in-law’ in particular? Why not ‘cousin’? Why a specific familial term that implies marriage, and, well, laws?

    • I was reading “brother-in-law” as shorthand for “brother of this woman I’m attached to and/or have children with”. It doesn’t require marriage or laws to have a concept of person(s) you have made a family with (not going to assume monogamy) and their extended relations.

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