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Staring into the gloom, I imagine the cave's ancient inhabitants, wrapped in

bear skins, huddled near a fire. The haunches of a reindeer roast in the fire.

A mother nurses her infant. Children playfully throw pieces of bone into

the flames. An old woman tends the wounds of a hunter with an herbal

ointment. The strong smells of smoke, unwashed bodies, and rotting

carcasses thicken the air.

Until recently, nobody would have assumed that the above passage (Rick Gore,

pp.6) was about how the Neandertals lived. However, recent studies have shown that

Neandertals are smarter than we first thought.

The geography of the Neandertals domain was quite odd. 230,000 years ago

Europe was filled with caves, marshes, and grasslands. It was a very harsh and cold

wilderness. The Neandertals were in existence right in the middle of the Ice Age, and

although occasional warm periods would create subtropical conditions as far north as

England for thousands of years, the glaciers would always return and the Neandertals

would always be forced south again. The Neandertals could be found as far north as

England and as far south as Spain, from Gibralter to Uzbekistan.

Neandertal bones have been found in the Neander Valley and Dusseldorf Germany,

in Altamura, Italy and Vindija, Croatia. These are major sites for the European caves the

Neandertals lived in. Although the Neandertals went to the southern tip of Italy, they

never crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Africa. They migrated from central Europe to

central Asia to the Middle East and always came back. Their main mode of moving

around was on their feet, and they usually travelled in bands of no more than 30 people.

The Neandertals had broad noses, and scientists think this was to warm the cold

air. They also had thick browridges, receding chins, high foreheads, and their skulls

sloped back over their brains. They learned to hunt in groups in order to kill the bigger

game. The Neandertals lived with modern humans for 10,000 years, but they didn't

change, and eventually it is believed the modern humans conquered them with their more

advanced technology.

Although not much is known about the Neandertal's culture, anthropologists have

some ideas of how they lived their life.

It is believed by many that the Neandertals practiced cannibalism for a death ritual.

There is evidence of this on the skulls and big bones of Neandertals. There are cut marks

and some bones have been broken open and are without marrow. Why would they do

this? Maybe they liked the way their neighbors tasted, or maybe it was a ritual for a

religion of theirs. There is other evidence they have a religion. One archaeologist found a

carved and polished ivory tooth, and since it looked to have no purpose as a tool, it is

most probably a spiritual object. The bodies of people were found in a cave with flowers

around them. This also suggests some sort of religion.

Scientists had always thought that the technology of the Neandertals was

"primitive". However, they have changed their minds. "You need a lot of brains for flint

knapping," Jacques Pelegrin of the French Center for Archaeological Research. Recent

excavations show that Neandertal tools required a high level of craftsmanship and mental

ability. During most of their existence, Neandertals have what is called Mousterian

technology- flaked tools (i.e. scrapers and points) and this remained unchanged for

100,000 years. During the last few thousand years of their lives, they developed what is

called Chatelperronian technology- hafted points and more complex.

It was also thought that the Neandertals couldn't speak. One theory is that they

communicated through mental telepathy, due to the large brains. Now though,

anthropologists believe that the Neandertals spoke at least a rudimentary language. A

hyoid bone(the voice box hangs from it in the back of the throat) was found in a body

recently. "They may not have had a language as complex as ours.... but at least they could

talk to each other," said Christopher Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History

Museum in London.

The Neandertals were plagued by injuries and disease, but there is evidence that

they were cared for by the group. They ate cave bears and aurochs and other big game,

slicing off the skin with sharp flints. The skins they cured and wore draped over their

bodies, and they made buildings resembling teepees out of wood or mammoth bones and

the hides of some animals.

The Neandertals had a compassionate side, something not expected from their big

and squat appearance. They cared for their sick and injured, and they had families, as a

man, two women, and an infant were found buried together with personal decorations on

them and pollen from wildflowers. Some think that bodies were also disposed of in large

caves for housecleaning.

Still, one of the biggest questions of Neandertals today is what happened to them?

Nobody really knows. There are many theories, however.

The Neandertals inhabited Europe from about 230,000 to 30,000 years ago.

About 40,000 years ago the modern humans arrived. They lived peacefully side by side

for 10,000 years and then all record of Neandertal life ends. It is thought that the modern

humans conquered and destroyed the Neandertals with their advanced technology. Or

maybe the Neandertals interbred with the modern humans and got slowly replaced, unable

to compete. It is also possible that a natural disaster(like the Ice Age) caught them in the

north and they were unable to leave, as they were surrounded by modern humans.

It is very surprising that there is no record of violence between the Neandertals and

the modern humans. "I see confrontation. People who grow up in the Middle East

understand that. We don't like each other. We rarely intermarry, and we kill each other

whenever we can. I don't think you can prevent competition among societies," said Ofer

Bar-Yosef. If that is so, then maybe the modern humans DID overthrow the Neandertals.

All anthropologist know is that 35,000 years ago the Neandertals migrated one last

time to the caves on the southern tip of Spain, and yet they never once tried to get over to

Africa. Why not?

I see them again, chipping at flints and gazing down at herds of elk and aurochs that grazed

the rich grasslands below. Now, where their prey once wandered, the ships of many nations

anchor. Beyond them, Africa looms through the haze, filling me with wanderlust and

questions. (Rick Grey, pp. 35)

Source: Essay UK -

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