Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday rerun: Way Back When

We use the term "Neanderthal" to disparage a brute, a boor, an unsophisticated knave.  "Oh, he's just a Neanderthal!" we exclaim as a guy races by us in his jacked-up pickup, throwing beer cans and caution out the window.  "Irv wouldn't stop and pick up dinner for Grace on his way home; what can you expect from a Neanderthal like him?" we say.

What do we really know of Neanderthal man?

We know his brain was bigger than ours, which has to mean something! And for another thing, he was European, and today we associate that with grace and élan.  To us, a European drives a race car, drinks the finest brandy, wears a beret, says witty things while eating tidbits of cheese and sipping champagne.  Or she's a slinky fashion model or actress walking a pet ocelot along the beach at Cannes. 

To be technical about it, these folks are known as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis,  and they paraded around from about 100,000–40,000 BC, at which time they were replaced by the Eurasian early modern humans known as Cro-Magnon man, although it is widely felt that a small contingent of Neanderthals still live in the Oakland, California area (photo left).

There are small hints here and there in the research into Neanderthals that lead one to believe that these people were maybe a couple pineapples short of a luau.  For one thing, we have uncovered their primitive cell phones, and they apparently knew nothing of taking selfies, their playlists were redundant, relying heavily on the throbbing disco sounds of the 45,000 BCs, and they could not for the life of them figure out how to add new names to their contact list, so everyone, to them, was "Ogg." 

Neanderthal skull, still waiting
to be seen in a Neanderthal HMO.
And there was this: The very name "Neanderthal" was first proposed for forerunners of us brainy Homo sapiens by the Anglo-Irish geologist William King in 1864, and it's a good thing he came up with the idea to name them after a German river valley, because two years later, one Ernst Haeckel proposed calling them Homo stupidus.

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