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Time to revise our prejudice against Neanderthals

Funny how, when you get to know someone, they don’t seem all that strange, after all.

We’ve been hearing a lot of this lately, thanks to the political landscape, but one group we’ve all insulted at one time or another disappeared from this planet tens of thousands of years ago: Neanderthals.

What we did know colored how we think of cavemen, beings with short, brutal lives and nothing we’d recognize as culturally significant. Jon Mooallem admits he was of that camp until he was invited to explore Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltor with the archaeological team uncovering a much different picture.

Decades of research and debate clearly show that old habits die hard, but this is just a sample of what has been discovered:

Neanderthals buried their dead. They made jewelry and specialized tools. They made ocher and other pigments, perhaps to paint their faces or bodies — evidence of a “symbolically mediated worldview,” as archaeologists call it. Their tracheal anatomy suggests that they were capable of language and probably had high-pitched, raspy voices, like Julia Child. They manufactured glue from birch bark, which required heating the bark to at least 644 degrees Fahrenheit — a feat scientists find difficult to duplicate without a ceramic container. In Gibraltar, there’s evidence that Neanderthals extracted the feathers of certain birds — only dark feathers — possibly for aesthetic or ceremonial purposes. And while Neanderthals were once presumed to be crude scavengers, we now know they exploited the different terrains on which they lived. They took down dangerous game, including an extinct species of rhinoceros. Some ate seals and other marine mammals. Some ate shellfish. Some ate chamomile. (They had regional cuisines.) They used toothpicks.

Mooallem’s article is a fascinating look at the forces that shape how we see the world, history, and our own evolutionary cousins (and, in some cases, lovers).

Full story at NY Times.

Intrigues in archaeology.

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  • They are still alive in our Genome , more advanced than ever given Credit !