Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Neandertals: Understandings and misunderstandings

In my previous post, I wrote about the celebration, at the La Chapelle aux Saintes museum, of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the "Old Man of La Chapelle". This Neandertal fossil gave rise to a lot of "portraits" of Neandertals. Many of these portraits are not very accurate, because they didn't take into account the fact that the poor fellow had a bad case of arthritis(among other things). You too would probably have a bad case of arthritis if you had to live in a damp cave during a cold, clammy Ice Age! In any case, many of these portraits suggested Neandertals couldn't walk upright. On the other hand, there were portraits, even very early on, that came closer to what Neandertals might have actually looked like. Above is one early example. This is not the earliest, but people iin Zdenek Burian's time still believed that Neandertals walked bent kneed. And they aren't wearing much in the way of clothing(again, fur kilts, meaning they're too "primitive" to have figured out that they should be wearing more "adequate" clothing), and they look kind of "apish"

On the other hand, one of the earliest portraits of a Neandertal, makes them look endearingly human, in a way. This one looks kind of like a Neandertal version of Harry Potter's Hagrid. This particular portrait was published in a British popular journal soon after La Chapelle aux Saintes was described by Marcellin Boule(he is to blame for not noticing, or not bothing to describe, the fact that the "old man" had arthritis). Boule also emphasized what he thought were the "apish" qualities of Neandertals in general. It took another fifty years until two anatomists named Straus and Cave, reexamined La Chapelle aux Saintes, and realized the man's bent knees were the result of arthritis. Note: I've seen such "bent-kneed" elders myself, and they are perfectly "modern" people, as far as I know. In any case, it is slowly dawning on some reconstructors, that Neandertals most likely looked more like this "Hagrid", not like Burian's portraits. A lot of damage can be done
in science, by people who judge too hastily, and then rush into print. We are still dealing with some decidely odd ideas --- even among paleoanthropologists who should know better, --- about the supposed "inferiority" of Neandertals.
Anne G

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