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
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 - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/neandertals.php