Human evolution Intelligent Design

The “dumb Neanderthal” myth dies hard

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A lot depends on the myth. From a review of Clive Finlayson’s forthcoming The Smart Neanderthal: Bird Catching, Cave Art, and the Cognitive Revolution:

Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum since 1991, takes aim at researchers who have interpreted the archaeological record of Neanderthals as suggesting that the species never attained the brain power of contemporary Homo sapiens. Sure, Neanderthals get marks for surviving at a time when the cold climate brought tundra conditions to most of Europe. But the conventional wisdom is that the modern humans who moved into Europe soon after leaving Africa some time in the past 50,000 to 70,000 years had already raised their cognitive game a notch or two, thus enabling them to prosper and eventually outwit their Neanderthal cousins.

Gibraltar lies at the southwestern edge of Neanderthals’ geographical range. Finlayson argues that discoveries his team has made at four main cave sites suggest that the species’ behavioural repertoire was more sophisticated than the popular caricature suggests. He says that the Neanderthals living there had access to, and took advantage of, a much wider range of resources than their northerly cousins, including rich avian biodiversity. And he posits that an archaeologist not familiar with animal behaviour would be unable to decipher the Gibraltar Neanderthals’ cognitive parity with modern humans. Bernard Wood, “Trail of feathers to the Neanderthal mind” at Nature

The reviewer isn’t convinced. Anyway, Finlayson’s gotta be put down for titling his book “The Smart Neanderthal,” in defiance of the Narrative in human paleontology. Who’s this Finlayson anyway, to question the boffins? More stories to come, for sure.

Prediction: Neanderthals will suddenly become just like us if a different set of putative “less than human” bones turns up. So long as there is no other “not quite human” in easy view, it really doesn’t matter what Neanderthals actually did. They’ll still have to be cast that way to appear in the approved drama of human evolution.

See also: Neanderthals were way smarter hunters than we used to think

Darwinian evolution and underestimating the Neanderthals

Was Neanderthal man fully human? The role racism played in assessing the evidence

In any Darwinian scheme, someone must be the subhuman. Otherwise, there is no beginning to human history.

and

Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents

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One Reply to “The “dumb Neanderthal” myth dies hard

  1. 1
    goodusername says:

    Prediction: Neanderthals will suddenly become just like us if a different set of putative “less than human” bones turns up. So long as there is no other “not quite human” in easy view, it really doesn’t matter what Neanderthals actually did.

    If you mean “not quite human”, that prediction already failed about 130 years ago. A reason Neanderthals have always been thought of as an extinct side branch rather than an ancestor, is because they not only lived at the same time as Homo sapiens, but also our ancestors such as Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus.

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