Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Monday, January 11, 2010

Assassination and ambush, caveman style

There's been a fair amount of news about Neandertals floating around lately.  There is even one about "Neandertal artists", which I'll get to later in another blog.  However has an interesting comment about a paper published -- I think -- last fall or so, about the famous Shanidar III fossil.  This was the fossil that, among other things, gave Jean Auel her portrait of the shaman Creb in Clan of the Cave Bear.  I won't go into all the inaccuracies Auel perpetrated in this work, but for those who may have read Clan of the Cave Bear, you may remember that Creb was suffering from arthritis, couldn't move one arm, and limped around, apparently just like Shanidar III. 


One of the authors of the recent paper referred to in, Steven Churchill, apparently became convinced that "modern" humans  succeeded Neandertals because they had projectile weapons, e.g., javelins or long spears, that they could throw over long distances.  He seems to think that an injury to Shanidar III's rib is consistent with a thrown "javelin", which, supposedly, Neandertals didn't have.  They supposedly "only" had thrusting spears. This may be true.  However, there are javelin-like implements, found at the German site of Schöningen, which are dated to approximately 400,000 years!  These also appear to have been used on an ancient species of wild horse, as horse-type bones were found with the javelins or spears.  So these ancient people, whoever they were, were not necessarily getting "up close and personal" with the prey they hunted.  Whether Neandertals possessed such weapons or not is perhaps debatable.  The point is, that these Schöningen spears were not dissimilar to -- and this sort of ties into my own work, in a way -- medieval weapons of a certain type.  I will show an illustration here:



Note that at least some of the fighters are holding the spears above their heads and presumably throwing(or perhaps thrusting them; this would, even in 'moderns" on horses, not be all that different from Neandertals and their "thrusting" spears.  Unfortunately, I can't lay hands on any pictures of the Schöningen spears, but they apparently were held and thrown similarly; the people who found them ran "throwing tests" on them.


I can't say whether Neandertals had such weapons for chasing down prey, but the archaeological record seems to indicate that they had a lot of things that were similar to the range of equipment contemporary "modern" humans had. 


So raises some interesting questions about possible interactions between Neandertals and "moderns".  Steven Churchill, on the other hand, presumes that such interactions as Neandertals and "moderns" may have had, were always what I call "high conflict".  He, and people like him, base this idea on the ecologically-based notion of "competitive exclusion", in which creatures which have similar habits tend to "exclude" each other out of their territories, or else kill each other. Problem with this is, humans, while following some of these ecological rules, some of the time, are more complicated organisms.  Since Neandertals and "moderns" increasingly appear to have had the same range of behaviors and reactions, and probably each had some sort of language, now lost, it's quite likely that, while all between Neandertals and "moderns" wasn't exactly "lovey-dovey" all the time, it wasn't always, and inevitably "high conflict", either.  Besides, as points out, why would someone suffering from arthritis and maybe not able to use one of their arms, be considered a threat to anybody?  It kind of boggles belief. 


To conclude, I don't know how Neandertals and "moderns" living around Shanidar Cave or anywhere else, might have regarded one another.  But I think Dr. Churchill, while he's done some excellent research about prehistoric humans, has just gone off on a sort of personal tangent here.  And an increasing body of research seems to suggest that whatever "happened" to Neandertals, it probably wasn't due to anything as simplistic as his ideas of "competitive exclusion", or some other notions(here implied, rather than explicit) of some Neandertal "lack" or "inferiority".



More about this and similar subjects later,

Anne G


Tim said...

Anne - thanks for checking the article; 2 images of the Schoningen spears can be found at:

and here:

but otherwise very little else in the way of images.

Anne Gilbert said...


And thank you for the link about the Schöningen spears. I think I probably have the pictures somewhere on my hard drive, but it would take a while to dig them out and upload them, so it's a double thanks.
Anne G

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