Neanderthals Win Prizes

Article excerpt

A book admired for telling the story of a crucial phase of human evolution in a way which fascinates the general reader yet also satisfies the specialist has been named archaeological book of the year in the 1994 British Archaeological Awards.

In Search of the Neanderthals by Christopher Stringer and Clive Gamble (Thames & Hudson, [pound]18.95 hb, [pound]12.95pb), narrowly took the title from two worthy runners-up, the scholarly and comprehensive Timber Castles by Robert Higham and Philip Barker (Batsford, [pound]25) and Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and its People, Alan K. Bowman's study and translation of the wooden writing tablets which reveal what life was like for the soldiers serving on Hadrian's Wall (British Museum Press, [pound]14.95).

So close were the three in the favour of the judges that the final decision was reached only after a complex system of voting -- which gave the title to the Stringer and Gamble book by a single point. Subtitled 'Solving the Puzzle of Human Origins' it was praised by the judges for comprehensive and approachable handling of the controversial issue of the place of the Neanderthals in the evolutionary sequence.

Generously illustrated and with its text interspersed with 'box features' illuminating a variety of topics relevant to Neanderthal life, the book traces the 200,000-year story of the ancient people who were closest to totally modern man. More and more discoveries over recent years have enabled the authors to put flesh on the ancient bones, and to destroy many of the uncomplimentary myths which have grown up around the Neanderthals.

Better understanding of human prehistory, they argue, is the route 'to enhancing, in these multicultural times, our understanding of ourselves'. …