Now It's Walking with Neanderthals; TV Drama to Capture the Astonishing Final Days of a Species That Could Put Us in the Shade

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 21, 2000 | Go to article overview

Now It's Walking with Neanderthals; TV Drama to Capture the Astonishing Final Days of a Species That Could Put Us in the Shade


Byline: NIGEL BLUNDELL

IN A mist-shrouded, forested valley only an hour's flight from London, time has just gone back 35,000 years.

It is an age when mammoths, bears and other great beasts roamed Europe - and where two entirely different species of Man walked, too.

One were our ancestors and the other simply vanished . . . just like the dinosaurs.

But now, at a secret location, experts have been recreating the last days on earth of Neanderthal Man - an astonishing race which has been extinct for 1,000 generations.

A Channel 4 film crew is using the same remarkable techniques which made the BBC TV series Walking With Dinosaurs such a huge hit.

Neanderthal Man was one of the most successful species ever - arguably, more successful than modern man. Adapting to the most violent extremes of climate, it survived for 272,000 years, compared to modern man's 40,000 years and 'civilised' man's 7,000.

In a [pounds sterling]1.5 million project, the filmmakers, palaeontologists and behav-ioural experts have used actors, prosthetics and 3D animation to resurrect a band of Neanderthals.

The film location is in northern Europe, but the terrain being represented is the Dordogne. This is because lands as far north as Britain were frozen under the ice 35,000 years ago.

Temperatures in the Dordogne would have fallen to -20 Celsius at night . .

. which is why the people needed to be hardy.

They had hugely muscled necks and torsos, stubby limbs to cut heat loss, wide fingers for gripping and big broad noses to warm and humidify the freezing air. But, despite popular belief, they were not covered in hair - they wore thick animal hides.

Neanderthals usually had at least four fires burning around their caves and were expert hunters.

They used flint-topped spears to lunge at prey because they hadn't the imagination to make ones to throw. But they could arrange rocks and brushwood into traps to capture wild boar and deer.

Their language? A basic, guttural vocabulary of around 70 words, probably at the level of today's two-year-old . . . and they never developed a full language, art or culture.

In short, the Neanderthals never felt the need to change, which, of course, led to their extinction.

But Simon Lloyd, producer of Neanderthals' World - to be screened as two one-hour specials in the autumn - said yesterday: 'Why evolve if you don't need to? Neanderthals were history's most successful humans and very strong.

A male could hurl a present-day rugby forward through the goal mouth.' And women had to perform tasks as equally demanding as the men.

Their bodies were almost as powerful and they would go hunting, too.

Yet they rarely lived beyond their mid-thirties.

Neanderthal clans were also tight-knit.

And to increase the gene pool, they would kidnap females from neighbouring clans.

Lovemaking is said to have been earthy and very public . . . and the Neanderthals practised polygyny (a form of polygamy) where most men have one sexual partner but the dominant male may have several.

Actress Sam Seager, 26, who plays a 16-year-old abducted from another clan, said: 'A cave girl's life is not for me. …

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