From Barbara J. King at NPR:
Historical explanations can be found for why Neanderthals, early on, were portrayed in stereotyped terms: In 1911, a French anatomist, through a series of misconceptions (and preconceptions), mis-reconstructed a male Neanderthal skeleton from the site of La Chappelle aux Saints in France as shambling and stooped. This male looked downright dim. For decades, the image — now representing Neanderthals everywhere — stuck.
Evidence amassed over the last century, though, indicates that Neanderthals are symbolic thinkers. As I have written here before, it’s a perfectly reasonable (if not 100 percent airtight) way of reading the evidence to conclude that Neanderthals carried out rituals in ways both symbolic and religious. When Neanderthal communities buried their dead with elaborate grave goods, often taken from the bodies of animals, they symbolically marked graves as meaningful places. Enacting those rituals may well have been a way for Neanderthals to connect to whatever, for them, was a sacred worldMore.
King goes on to posit a complex thesis in which she offers a discreet pitch for apes (“ who don’t make cave art and who don’t bury their dead with community rituals”) who, she has elsewhere suggested, are treated unfairly by IQ tests. Maybe fairer treatment would be, forget IQ tests for apes. Respect and protect them for what they are: Animals with a role in nature, who have an intelligence that requires humane treatment.
The real reason for the Neanderthal moment of stupidity was Darwinians needed to find the Missing Link. That’s all falling apart now too.
Shouted from the coffee room: Here’s the deal: … Neanderthal Man turned out to be too stupid to know enough to act like the Missing Link!
See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
Are apes entering the Stone Age?