Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Robert Sawyer's essay on Neandertals

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!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Neandertals were efficient tool makers

According to this article courtesy of the BBC, some researchers have discovered that Neandertal "flaked" tools were just as effective and efficient --- sometimes more so --- than  ththe later "blades" widely used by "modern" humans.  OTOH, there are instances of Neandertals using "bladed" tools, though they manufactured them somewhat differently than "moderns" did. These tools have been found in "Chatelperronian" sites --- these were among the last known Neandertals.  Some workers think they merely  copied these tools from "moderns" without knowing what they were for or how to use them, others(and I tend to at least partially favor this explanation)thinnk they developed these kinds of more sophisticated tools more or less independent of "modern" influence.  I also tend to think that if it is true that Neandertals stuck to "flaked" tools, it was because they found the "blades" didn't work for them as well, not because they "couldn't" make them, or couldn't figure out how to use them.  And the more evidence that comes in from sources such as those experimental archaeologists, the more it seems that there wasn't really all that much difference between Neandertals and "moderns"(if any), other than Neandertals, unfortunately for them, suffered from having smaller and more scattered populations, which made them more vulnerable to being absorbed or becoming extinct.Anne G

Monday, August 25, 2008

Computer problems resolved?

It looks like I may have my computer problems (mostly) solved!  I even set up my printer, and it prints beautufully.  For which I can only say I'm exceedingly glad.  I still don't have my old files, but the Family Computer Guru says he has a solution for that, in about a week.  So WhI guess I can do most things, though I'd really like my old files, so I can finish up the rewrite of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals.  Whether I can interest anybody in publishing it, is another story altogether.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

More good writing advice

I periodically collect good writing advice from writers all over. This one is from the lady who runs Cute Writing, a blog full of all sorts of good stuff for writers. This one is about advice from an unfamous writer I never heard of and haven't ever read. But it's basically the same advice given by Stephen King in his book On Writing, which, I might add, is a very good book for people who want to be writers to take a look at. Basically, both of them say you should read all kinds of stuff: fiction, nonfiction, best-sellers and not-so-famous slog-alongers. The more you read, the more you develop an inner sense of good writing(I'll go more into that later, as there are two books I'm reading that illustrate certain things about good and bad writing, very, very well).What you don't want to do is to try to "copy" some best-selling author. You really want to try to develop your own style, whatever that may be. Otherwise, you just become a pale copy of the best selling author, writing "in the style of" Stephen King or whoever it is. I hardly consider myself an expert, since I'm pretty much learning my craft "by the seatit rmy pants", so to speak, but it really strikes me as very important, when two or more writers, both famous and not-so-famous, are essentially saying the same thing. As for me, I'm just trying to follow their advice while working on my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. That's all I can do.
Anne G

Aaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggghhhhh!!!!!! Number 2

I had another aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!!!!!!! moment this morning. It had to do with my computer. Again. I called a tech at the place where I'm supposed to be able to get help transferring my files from my old computer to my new one, which is a replacement for the laptop which broke down last week and wouldn't get on the Internet(I'm keeping my fingers firmly crossed on this one). I couldn't get the external hard drive to do anything. He claimed the compter was "too old". So I still don't have my writing files, nor the pictures I've been saving and saving! I had to do that because my new computer wouldn't "recognize" my old printer. In any case, I'm pretty much back where I started from. Getting desperate, I'm going to ask for help from the family computer guru. He runs a computer system for a local school district. So I assume he knows what he's talking about, especially if he has a thumb drive or something like that, which can transfer these files.
Anne G

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


My laptop lasted three days, then refused to get on the Internet. Why? Because apparently iut had a defective wireless card. I can't get it to recognize that my printer exists, either, which kinda puts a crimp in my "writing style". I have to get another laptop. Fortunately the place where I got it from, offered to replace it. And I can get a printer there, too. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
Anne G

Sunday, August 17, 2008


As of Friday, I got a new computer. It's a laptop. It works better than my old computer, and it's a lot faster. Also, the graphics are much, much better! I have a new version of my old word processing program, and also the latest version of Microsoft Word. At the moment, I couldn't be happier. The only thing I need to do is transfer my old files(the writing ones, and the photos), onto this laptop. But the tech support I signed up for was busy, so I haven't done that. I hope I don't have to do this myself! I can, but I'm lazy!
Anne G

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Literary agents

Through a writer's e-mail list, I've just come across a blog called Guide To Literary Agents. There seens to be a lot of very good advice there, including one about "Agents' Pet Peeves in Chapter 1. Going through the list, I believe I can pat myself on the back for avoiding most or all of these "pet peeves" in the first chapter of The Invaders, but perhaps not all. On the other hand, I'm furiously revising The Invaders, whih, among other things, needs a timeline for me to refer to. So, sadly, I won't be needing to follow through on this any too soon. On stil another hand, though, I intend to keep looking at it from time to time, just so I can keep on avoiding what literary agents hate, and, I hope, improve my writing as I go along.
Anne G

Sunday, August 10, 2008

John Hawks explains it all

A quick update on the Neandertal genome sequencing news: The John Hawks Weblog has a long post explaining and clarifying a great deal of information about it. Much of the information was confusing to me, and this was partly due to bad science reporting. But then, there are very few science reporters out there, for whom I have a great deal of use, though that is another story. But for those of you who are interested in these kinds of things, you would do very well to click on the link I provided. It's worth the effort of going over there, and reading Dr. Hawks' rather long, but extremely imformative, post.
Anne G

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Anniversary musings

This blog has been running for a little over a year. It started on July 27,2007 with a simple "Introduction". I thought that was the best way to start. While this blog is not yet famous, whatever that may mean in the blogosphere, a small, but steady stream of people has been visiting. I want to thank each and every one of you. You know who you are.

I am also pleased to announce that the blog Remote Central It's about my blog re the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the infamous La Chapelle aux Saintes Neandertal. You have to scroll down to July 16, where there is a piece in Four Stone Hearth #45 Thanks, Remote Central!

In the coming year, there will probably be lots more controversies about Neandertals. I will make my ideas about them known to all readers. And there will probably be lots more good books out there for me to read. I'll let everyone know about those, too. Finally, I'll likely be doing more musings about my own writing struggle --- and it is a struggle sometimes, not just for me, but for any writer. And of course, if I get really lucky, I'll letcha all know when my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals gets published. Anyone who has had sufficient interest to show up here, should be among the first to know that! Take my word for it, I'm working furiously on a rewrite of the first book, in that hope!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Neandertal genome news

The latest edition of the journal Cell has a report that some people from the Max Planck Institute in Germany have sequenced a whole Neandertal genome.

Here is the report:">Complete Neandertal mitochondrial genome sequenced from 38,000-year-old bone from
A study reported in the August 8th issue of the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication, reveals the complete mitochondrial genome of a 38,000-year-old Neandertal. The findings open a window into the Neandertals' past and helps answer lingering questions about our relationship to them.

This blurb doesn't say much, so the astute reader may want to go here for further information. The article came from the British journal Nature, and has some comments, though not much more explanation, about the genome.

My own thoughts about this paper go like this:

I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind that Neandertals were a distinct population Their anatomy alone, whilc basically similar to ours, has some pretty "distinct" features, like their browridges and the "buns" on the bakc of their skull, and the shape of those skulls, though at least one worker in the field suggests that their brains were arranged pretty much like ours(he deduced this from endocasts). They also had denser bones and more muscle attachments, than "modern" people.

But what does all this really mean? The geneticists who pulled together their "Neandertal genome", admit themselves, that there need to be more sequences done on specimens from other Neandertal populations. And they admit that while certain proteins they sequenced(if I understand this study correctly), have somewhat different DNA sequences, they apparently functioned no differently from "ours">

Given that Neandertals are the best known of all prehistoric humans(other than early "modern" ones), and had the fortunate(for us) habit of burying their dead with some regularity, there are more Neandertal fossils lying around, waiting to be sequenced by these methods, than any other prehistoric human fossils. Furthermore, they were the first non-"modern" humans ever discovered, so they have been scrutinized in various ways, for a little over 150 years.

One would think that, since tremendous changes in our understanding of inheritance, and the acceptance --- by most educated people --- that evolution has taken place, one might think many of the questions surrounding the rise and demise of Neandertals would have been answered. But they are basically the same old questions, and there seems to be a tendency for a lot of people to assume, just as they assumed back when the unfortunate La Chapelle aux Saintes fossil was discovered, that they were basically "different" and "not like us at all". But what archaeological evidence there is, seems to suggest that while they were(apparently) a decidedly small population, they also had pretty much the same behaviors and responses that "modern" humans do, to a variety of things.

Because of this, many people are faced with the dilemma of trying to figure out how much "like" us, they were, given that there seem to have been some populations of prehistoric humans with "mixed" ancestry --- long after there were any Neandertals --- and so far, none of these questions have been settled to anybody's satisfaction. This study is a step in some direction: they appear to have been "different" all right. And there are plenty of people who do not want to consider that there might have been any connection at all, between Neandertals and "modern" humans. These people latch on to studies like this, with the tenacity of hungry wolves trying to make meals out of the nearest deer, and insist that Neandertals were a totally "separate species". But what constitutes speciation depends on a lot of factors, for evolution, human and otherwise, is a complicated, messy business. Since no one has yet satisfactorily answered how much "difference" actually constitutes speciation(other than the inability of two separate organisms to mate and produce fertile offspringa), what we are left with, is essentially judgment calls as to what these ki8nds of differences "mean". Since I'm a writer writing a Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, I can't claiim to know what these differences "mean", though I have my opinions. Be that as it may, I think this study will probably raise even more questions about Neandertals, their relationship(if any) to "us", and what "happened" to them, than it ever can answer. And the arguments surrounding these questions, will go on for a long, long time after numerous other studies(which probably won't answer these questions either), have come and gone.
Anne G

Friday, August 1, 2008

Writing styles, old and new

Earlier today, I was directed to Anita Davison, Historical Fiction Author a published author, unlike me. In her latest blog, she raised some interesting questions about style, using a book by one Elizabeth Von Arnim, who wrote The Enchanted April in 1922.

Looking through the excerpt provided by Ms. Davison, I thought to myself that I would probably have used about half that verbiage --- in that one paragraph. And even then, my critiquers probably would find "flabby" parts or words that simply don't need to be there.

I must say, for the record, that I've pretty much learned writing technique by "the seat of my pants". I've never really had any formal writing courses, and I majored in anthropology, not English literature. Which is probably why I find it a lot easier to deal with Neandertals and other prehistoric humans, or "exotic" cultures, than I do with the "nuts and bolts" of literature.

Furthermore, I can remember reading books written more or less like Mrs. Von Arnim's. Styles like this were used right up through the 1950's, though by that time there was some "editing" going on. Nowadays, though, editors probably wouldn't put up with a style like this, no matter how good the story was. The only exception might be if the person doing the writing was employing this style for "comic" effect.

Today, we're accustomed to reading "cleaner" and leaner books. This is especially true where the author is writing something "plot driven"(most genre fiction). Knowing this, I've done my best not to write "run-on" sentences(this was one of the first stylistic rules I learned). I've also learned not to use a lot of adjectives and adverbs("ly" endings), unless they are necessary, for example in describing something about a character when they first are introduced. I've also learned, more recently, that you don't have to have "he said"/"she said" tags in every conversation. Finding other ways of writing dialogue is what I've learned about the cardinal rule of "showing, not telling". Showing, rather than telling, is more likely to "grab" a contemporary reader. And I'm still learning. I probably always will.

But in a different era --- probably in a time when, as Ms. Davison points out, people had more time to read for pure pleasure, --- editors were either more forgiving of these things, or they were more likely to be looking for an interesting story told in a unique way, never mind the "style". So nowadays, the convoluted style Mrs. Von Arnim employed in The Enchanted April just seems old-fashioned. And if anyone loves Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, they will notice that he wrote in an even more convoluted style than Mrs. Von Arnim. Yet Lord of the Rings has plenty of readers. It's a wonderful story, in its way.

Still, styles, lives, and attitudes change. And what seemed "normal" for Elizabeth Von Arnim and J.R.R Tolkien, often seems "wordy" and old-fashioned today. I don't think Mrs. Von Arnim was a bad writer. And though I've read plenty of bad modern writing, I've read some quite good stuff, as well. I also think there may well be a place for some usages --- for example, an "omniscient" point of view --- which used to be commonly used, but are frowned upon in most writing now. And I tend to think(I've mentioned this elsewhere) that the creeping trend of writing a story in the present tense usually isn't even necessary, though some good writers can pull it off. I'll be talking about that more, in another post. But that's another story. I suspect that part of the reason writing has become "leaner" is simply that most people don't have the time they used to have for reading. Too many people juggle jobs, kids, household chores, to just sit down and read something. Which is quite understandable. So books get shorter and leaner, unless the writer is someone like Stephen King, who is so well known that he has a following who will read his latest.

Add to this the sheer cost of publishing a book, and the reasons for changes in writing styles become even more painfully obvious. This is not, in itself, a bad thing, but in a way, it's too bad that writers like Elizabeth Von Arnim are now considered "old-fashioned". According to Anita Davison, they're truly wonderful reads, although, being a published author, she herself doesn't read "for pelasure" any more. I do, but the way I do it is different than the way I read things before I started writing. And that's food for another blog, somewhere down the line!
Anne G