Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Friday, April 3, 2009

Back to the Neander front

Neandertals are in the news again -- sort of. A researcher has reexamined what's left of the Krapina Neandertals, who were supposedly noted for eating each other.  They were discovered just over 100 years ago, by Gorjanovic-Kranberger, a native Croatian, who did very careful(for the time), work on them.  He seemed to think the bones were broken and scattered as they were, due to some cannibalistic feast, adding to the decidedly "brutish" image of Neandertals which had by then begun to take hold.  It would take the efforts of Marcellin Boule and his discussion of the by now famous or infamous La Chapelle aux Saintes fossil, to fully crystallize this "brute" image, but Gorjanovic-Krambegrer's  cannibalism claims didn't help things any.  Unfortunately, this image remains to this day, though it is slowly weakening and being replace -- equally slowly -- by a much more complex picture of a group of people, apparently always a small population living in difficult circumstances, but as fully competent as "modern" humans, and as fully functional. 


Be this as it may, the researcher who reexamined the bones seems to think that the cutmarks found on the bones, represent something else. He doesn't say exactly what this might have been, but he strongly implies some kind of burial ritual was going on.  Some modern human groups practice burial rituals that involve ritual defleshing of the body, or secondary burial after a period of time. This might have been a practice among Neandertals, too, especially if they were trying to protect the dear departed from the ravages of scavenging animals(e.g. hyenas, wolves, bears, etc; they didn't have the technology for a deep burial pit). We have no way of knowing if they had burial rituals, though they appear to have been among the earliest of human groups to actually bury their dead. And despite the rigorous denials of some workers, it's known that at least some Neandertal sites contain obvious burials. But if they did practice rituals of any sort, including burials, then this would imply an ability to think symbolically, which would also probably imply speech and language -- something else the "Neanderstupid" crowd wishes to deny them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. 


Absent a time machine we will probably never know under what circumstances Neandertals buried their dead, nor what rituals they may have practiced. But this much is certain:  the more we study these long gone humans(and yes, they were human, if not "exactly" like "us"), the more complex and interesting they become.  I will leave you now with a picture to contemplate:


Anne G

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