I have a lot of respect for Robert Sawyer. Most of the time. He is an excellent writer,and I've enjoyed many of the boos I've read that he's authored. I will continue to follow his output. And he has written an essay about Neandertals, which is worth reading.Unfortunately, he trots out the same old, same old, regarding what Neandertals did or did not do, though he does put a kind of different "spin" on it. He claims that Neandertals were somehow smarter for not supposedly emulating the things "we" are supposedly famous for: burying our dead and having "religion"(he implies, just as in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, that Neandertals didn't), and he implies that they didn't "go in for" decorations, such as painting themselves with ocher.
Trouble is, there are a number of known, and agreed-upon, Neandertal burial sites. Even the (somewhat) controversial Shanidar is thought to be a burial site, though there is disagreement as to whether they "really" buried their dead with flowers(I happen to think that in this case, they probably did). And there are others. It is also true that there are some sites that were thought at one time to be Neandertal burial sites, which are now not thought to be, but that is entirely different from saying Neandertals never practiced rituals or buried their beloved relatives.
It is also untrue that Neandertals "never" decorated themselves. There is ample evidence of this, at some sites, and even in earlier sites, there is some evidence of ocher use, which may have served both practical and "decorative" purposes.
Finally, he trots out the whole "extinction by genocide" argument which has been around in one form or another, practically since the time Neandertals were first discovdefred. A lot of people seem to buy into it, because they have an unnecessarily "dark" view of what "human nature" is. There is "human nature" all right, but those people who seem to hold this view most strongly, also seem not to understand that philosophers and others have been debating exactly what "human nature" is for at least the last 2,000 years, and have not come to any agreement on this subject. And again, while there is some argument as to whether Neandertals came up with thingvs like decorating themselves, and more "modern" tools by imitating "modern" humans, or whether they came up with these things on their own(the "great minds think alike" version of prehistory, perhaps), there is no doubt that they figured out such complex ideas as social distinctions and probably had rituals and belief systems and myths of their own. The disadvantage to Neandertals is, these kinds of things don't show up in the archaeological record, except indirectly. Whereas with "modern" humans, you have a time when somebody started writing down the myths and rituals of the people who were telling the stories, dancing the dances, singing the songs, etc.
Robert Sawyer is, as I said, a fine writer, and this essay was triggered by the fact that Neandertals apparently had tools that were just as efficient as "modern" ones, sometimes more efficient. But even in the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, he seems to have ignored or been unaware of these findings. He may have had an excuse for ignoring or not knowing abou these things at the time he wrote these books. But, again in my view, he has no excuse ignoring these findings now. Shame on Robert Sawyer!