Neanderthals Anything but Incompetent Dimwits

Cape Times (South Africa), May 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

Neanderthals Anything but Incompetent Dimwits


BYLINE: Will Dunham Reuters

WASHINGTON: No offence, but your ancestors probably were no brighter than a Neanderthal.

That's the message a pair of researchers delivered after analysing archaeological evidence detailing the capabilities of Neanderthals, our closest extinct human relative, compared to the early modern humans who first crossed their path about 40 000 years ago.

The researchers said the findings show Neanderthals were anything but the incompetent dimwits that they are often deemed.

These include: complex hunting methods that required a group effort and planning in advance; probable use of spoken language; use of pigments probably for body painting; use of symbolic objects like eagle claws and perforated animal teeth, probably for pendants; and the sophisticated use of fire.

"We found no data in support of the supposed technological, social and cognitive inferiority of Neanderthals compared to their modern human contemporaries," said Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

"The vision of primitive club-wielding brutes who in the end vanished when superior modern humans entered their world has been obsolete for a long time already," Roebroeks added.

Neanderthals prospered across Europe and Asia from about 350 000 to about 40 000 years ago, but disappeared after early modern humans trekked into Europe from Africa.

Many scientists had postulated that Neanderthals were too stupid, clumsy and incompetent to survive competition with the smart and inventive modern humans who invaded their territory. …

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