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by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-19-974282-0
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

An anthropologist and a psychologist apply concepts from their respective disciplines to speculate on the mental processes and social organization of our distant, Neandertal cousins.

In this popular follow-up to their more scholarly work (The Rise of Homo sapiens: The Evolution of Modern Thinking, 2009 etc.), University of Colorado, Colorado Springs professors Wynn and Coolidge decipher clues from the Neandertal skeletons, stone artifacts and bones from sites where they hunted and butchered large predators that formed the major portion of their diet and genetic analysis. It is now accepted that modern humans and Neandertals descended from a common African ancestor around 500,000 years ago, and that we share more than 99.8 percent of our genes with them. They migrated to Europe around 200,000 years ago during a period of major glaciation, and became extinct for unknown reasons 30,000 years ago. Skeletal evidence suggests that their build would have been similar to ours, but male skeletons show grievous bodily injuries they likely received while hunting. The handheld stone-tipped spears they used for hunting indicate significant technical skills. They were cave dwellers who lived and hunted in small isolated groups of around 20 families, with little division of labor between the sexes. Wynn and Coolidge are convinced that they would have developed language, yet they note that there are no indications that the Neandertals had any of the spiritual concerns reflected in all known human societies--e.g, while they placed their dead in shallow graves, there is no indication that they practiced burial rites--perhaps because of biological differences in their brains or because of the harsh, demanding conditions of their daily lives.

An intriguing look at fellow beings who seem to have been “inexact mirrors of ourselves,” perhaps not as conceptually advanced but not so dissimilar either.