Personally, I think that I am a Neanderthal. Of course, we all know that that is almost impossible. However, what if there is just the smallest possibility? The neanderthal man supposedly became extinct almost 30,000 years ago, yet the possibility exists that Neanderthal man may be living among us. The anthropological record is full of similar beings with parallel lines of evolution. In many respects, the ancestors of man have, at one point, lived with at least one other evolutionary member. Having that in mind, why would it not be possible for Neanderthals to still co-habitat with modern man at this age in time? One morning almost 300,000 years ago, the sun rose to a new epic in earth’s history. The hominids that we would learn to call Neanderthal began to take steps on the world. At first, just the sight of these strong robust beings must have struck fear into the heart of those that they preyed upon. Usually not standing over five feet 5 inches at 185 pounds (Encarta 1). These hominoids were physically powerful and with the current archeological evidence powerful in mind.
Having a brain somewhat larger than modern humans do, many researchers are theorizing that Neanderthals had a complex social structure. Yet, with their strong body and mind, they somehow fell off the face of the earth. Alternatively, could it be that they simply adapted to a new environment, improvised ways to live in that new environment, and eventually overcame adversity. The bodies of Neanderthals have perfectly adapted to the Upper Pleistocene. In an era where ice ruled, the world size really mattered. Being short in stature ensured that Neanderthals were able to stay quite comfortably warm. Along with their extremely strong physic, they became perfectly adapted to the world they lived in. They were able to hunt some of the largest mammals that the world had to offer. That is where it is believed that the Neanderthal social structure may have evolved. In a world where prey animals such as the Irish elk stood 7 feet tall at the shoulder with antlers that stretched for 12 feet, Neanderthals must have had to hunt in groups. It is possible that the groups may have been composed of family groups, yet it is thought that they eventually formed small tribes.
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As the old saying goes “There is safety in numbers”, the Neanderthals most likely learned this basic law of life and probably applied it to their own lives. Neanderthals lived in caves that large cave bears, which Neanderthals had to fight with, also occupied most. Of course, the Neanderthals did not rush in fighting predators and taking prey with their bare hands, for Neanderthals were intuitive toolmakers. There was a good variety of tools in the Neanderthal culture. For cutting to scraping and piercing tools, Neanderthals had a venerable tackle box of tools at their control (Feder 290). Even had axes were taken to high levels of sophistication? Some of which were probably borrowed by modern man as he began to co-exist with Neanderthals. Even with their sophisticated level of tool making and their communal way of living life was hard for the Neanderthals. With a life expectancy of 30 years of age at best, Neanderthals had to grow up fast. Learning the tricks of the trade from their parents, for they were probably the only adults that would teach the young.
Grandparents were probably unheard of to most Neanderthals. Yet the archeological record does show a few specimens of Neanderthal that did make it into full adulthood and older age. But for the most part, Neanderthals life spans were short compared to that of modern humans. Even though the life span of the Neanderthal was short, they were able to build a complex culture that would more than rival early modern man. Many academics believe that the communal culture of the Neanderthal, which likely revolved around the family, lead them to be compassionate towards members of their group in times of sickness, in the event of an injury, and at the time of death. Many Neanderthal gravesites that have been found show that care was taken to bury the dead. It is believed that ceremony was even involved. In addition, evidence of severe injuries to some remains has been found. In those cases, the individual’s injury showed signs of healing. That has led many academics to believe that the individual was taken care of by another in his group.
Leading many to speculate that the groups most have taken good care of their members that were wounded for whatever reason. Such behavior makes a Neanderthal man have had a caring nature showing compassion towards his fellow Neanderthal. So where did hominids that exhibited so many modern human qualities and traits go? Could such beings simply die out? Modern-day scholars are searching for that answer. It was previously believed that Neanderthals were in no way the creatures that I have just described. Instead, the belief was that Neanderthals were little more than unfeeling apes, with no sense of humanity. The early modern man eventually pushed these unintelligent beings to the side. That viewpoint was initially that most early anthropologists took towards the Neanderthals. For many years scientist erroneously labeled the hominid, even in the early attempts to reconstruct the skeleton of a Neanderthal the French anthropologist Marcellin Boule, believing that Neanderthal man did not fit in the human evolutionary tree, in 1913 made the skeleton look hunched over and very ape-like (Fader 278). It would not be until the middle of the 20th century that anthropologists would recognize the error and rectify it.
Along with more new archeological and anthropological evidence the true nature of these hominids, begins to surface. With these new discoveries and theories, the questions about Neanderthal and early modern human interactions began to rise. The possibilities that both groups interacted with are almost immediately evident. If not be a scientific approach just a common scene would simply dictate the possibility. Of course, such interaction must have been subtle at first, but such theories are being proven. Recent finds in the Neander Valley itself are opening up the possibilities. In 1997, a group of archaeologists led by Dr. Ralf W. Schmitz conducted an excavation on a couple of mounds on the banks of the Düssel River (Neanderthal 1). Found within the mounds were remains of animals and skeletal remains of Neanderthals that match the fossil found in 1856 from the original Neanderthal discovery (Neanderthal 2). Carbon –14 dating was conducted on a sample of the find that dated the bone to about 40,000 years ago (Neanderthal 3). The date defiantly places Neanderthals with the arrival of early modern humans into Eastern Europe.
Early modern humans first appeared 100,000 years after Neanderthals in Africa but did not arrive in Europe for another 150,000 years. Once they did arrive in Europe they had to have competed with Neanderthals directly for food, shelter, and territory. Such interaction would most likely have brought other forms of interaction. It is feasible that both hominids could have crossbreed. One scholar, Günter Bräuer, is one of the main proponents of the genetic replacement theory (Feder 308). In this theory, Bräuer proposes that modern humans did not force Neanderthals into extinction as that by others, but instead interbreed with the Neanderthals. Which over time produced hybrid populations that eventually through the process of natural selection caused the gradual decline of the Neanderthals. Such theories are highly debated and research has shown that Neanderthals made a substantial genetic contribution to the modern European gene pool (Neanderthal 4). Therefore, it is safe to say that Neanderthals did, in fact, interbreed with modern man, It could also be possible to say that Neanderthal culture may also still be indirectly part of modern human culture. It is suggested that Neanderthals possibly practiced the earliest form of religion (Feder 296).
Which could possibly have led to the early pagan human beliefs? Similarities exist with the worshipping of bears by early humans and the bear skull alters made by Neanderthals. There are also theories that Neanderthals may have also be the first to use language. In recent years, the fire has been burning hot and fast. The argument itself is not new, yet a recent study conducted by researchers a Duke University has added more fuel to the fire. As with all studies though, there is always someone to challenge the study, in this case, the University of California at Berkeley. Of course, this will take some time before anything gets settled. Therefore, as I said before I think that I am a walking talking Neanderthal. On one side, my Spanish ancestors that came to the new world during the age of exploration all came from the area in the north of the Iberian peninsula where many Neanderthal fossils were have been found. So I think that could make me a good candidate, or maybe it is just around the physique. I am built, in certain respects, much like a Neanderthal, short and stocky with a large brain. Yet, maybe I have just thought about this topic a little too long and it is simply going to my head. In any respect, the ancient world of the Neanderthal is not gone we modern people keep it alive in attempts to find out whether or not there still are Neanderthals walking with us.
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