Nikole writes: “The Neanderthal, The Artist” headlines a recent New York Times article in the Science Section of the paper. It opens like this:
“It’s long been an insult to be called a Neanderthal. But the more these elusive, vanished people have been studied, the more respect they’ve gained among scientists.” The discovery of Neanderthal cave paintings leads scientists to conclude that they could think in symbols and “When you have symbols you have language” says archaeologist Joao Zilhao. The common assumption was that Neanderthals disappeared because they were so primitive, so ‘Neanderthal’, that extinction was inevitable. “The accumulating evidence puts Neanderthals on a more equal footing [and] population extinction has been a part of human history forever.”
Twenty years ago William challenged the prevailing disdainful opinions about Neanderthals He wrote:
One great manitou on scientific topics on a TV show declared, with authority, that the Neanderthal was not destroyed by Homo Sapiens but by his own defective lifestyle. The fossil remains show that the Neanderthal didn't protect his fire from wind and rain and that the males lived separate from females and children, so didn't take care of their families. The expert didn't explain how the Neanderthal with those handicaps could survive 300.000 years, ten times longer than the Homo Sapiens up to now, and why those handicaps killed him precisely at the appearance of Homo Sapiens.
Possible Neanderthal talents were contemplated once more in Evolution: Groups or Individuals He concludes:
In archaic patriarchal societies, women were the reward. Such an important Neanderthal could have gotten women -- could Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens breed? We can't exclude it. So we may have more Neanderthal blood than we can imagine. Another transfer could have occurred on the opposite level. Perhaps the particularly archaic Homo Sapiens found their way to the Neanderthal societies and were accepted.
Some may argue that one swallow doesn't make a spring. One Neanderthal accepted sporadically here and there would not have made a notable difference in the tribal fabric. But this influential, super intelligent, accepted Neanderthal could have pleaded for safety and peace for his less privileged brethren and may have been listened to. The blank pages of human archaic history will remain blank forever. The only thing we can conclude just by watching our less remote past and present is that some self-regulatory mechanisms exist in nature for humans et al and nothing bad happens if we let nature take its course.
One reader wrote to Vagabond's Communication Page to suggest that the Neanderthals may have been wiped out because they were too compassionate.
Saving the best for last -- on the same Communication Page, someone who signed "DV" wrote to Vagabond:
"This is one of MANY theories on what happened to the Neanderthals. The debate is still on, unfortunately."
In my view debate can hardly be 'unfortunate.' WM