7. The Evolution of Hominids

7.5 Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis

The refined Levalloisian culture that had appeared 150,000 years ago during the Riss glaciation (see fig. 7.6) was adopted and continued in the Near East and Europe by men appearing 100,000 years ago, during the Riss-Wurm interglaciary.


Figure 7.6. Time chart of the cultural advances associated with progressive hominisation.

Neanderthal Man was about 1.6 meter tall, extremely strongly built and, although his face was still heavy, he had acquired a cranial capacity making him akin to modern man (fig. 7.7).


Figure 7.7. The cranial capacity of the Neanderthal is about the same as that of a primitive sapiens sapiens (Cro-Magnon). The occipital part of the skull of the Neanderthal is more developed than in sapiens and the reverse is true for the frontal lobe.

Neanderthal Man seems to have originated in India and expanded to China, Siberia and Africa but he was most prosperous in Europe and the Near East (fig. 7.8). When the latest glaciation came (i.e. the Wurm), Neanderthal man stood his ground with the help of fire and clothes. Although his teeth show him to be a vegetarian, he developed into a specialized hunter of the arctic fauna.


Figure 7.8. Neanderthal man was present all over the Old World. Typical Mousterian tools are found in great abundance in Europe, where the Neanderthal developed as a dead-end line. Less forbidding in his physical aspect was the Near East Neanderthaloid representative of this species.

Despite the cold, the great plains of Siberia, Hungary and the plateaus of France were by no means an unfavorable environment for hunters able to kill mammoths and other herbivores. In more pleasant climates such as Italy and Palestine, Neanderthal Man hunted the same animals as those hunted by the Levalloisian man. Initially he also used the same tools and failed to extend the range of his prey.

Neanderthal man developed a culture of his own, the Mousterian, that lasted 65,000 years and disappeared 35,000 years ago. The Neanderthal culture was, as in the previous cultures, based on the fabrication of stone tools. There does not seem to be any special armament made of bones or wood. The tools produced were of high quality and showed a great firmness of intention with a remarkable economy of means.

The extreme scarcity of the human population combined with a propitious climate that allowed for an abundance of food, induced sedentariness and was responsible for the development of various cultural lines among the group. These cultural differences are noticed through the preferential use of particular tools as well as through the techniques of fabrication of these tools. In France alone, four such cultural lines are recognized, which do not interpenetrate, and more cultural groups are recognized in other geographical habitats.

Neanderthal man occupied caverns serving as base camps for large units. The hunters also had transient camps that served as relays on the way to hunting grounds, collecting stations or quarries. They would reside there for short times. These humans were well organized and could plan ahead. Neanderthal also was awed by the inexplicable condition of death because he buried his dead. He may have practiced a “bear cult” as demonstrated by the discovery of bear tombs. However, he was still a cannibal and showed no artistic activity, although he used colors. The practice of funeral rites supposes an oral tradition; Neanderthal must have been able to transmit information by the use of words, if only in a rudimentary way.

The show of interest for the dead and the increase of the family unit to a tribal size are indications of his superior intellect and sociability, which reflected on his fortune as a hunter and was translated into an increase of his population numbers. The superiority of this man is manifest in the fact that he was able to colonize part of the world. Yet, during the 65,000 years and more of his existence, Neanderthal man was content, despite a cranial volume equal to our own, to continue the activities of his predecessors, with the all-important difference that man, a tropical animal, was now able to break away from the coercions of the environment and colonize regions where he would normally be unfit. The lack of cultural progress and artistic activity may be due to the fact that his cranial volume is most developed on the occipital site.

In the West, the Cro-Magnon man variety of sapiens sapiens adapted to hunting and making a universal use of fire arose 35,000 years ago on the occasion of a slight thaw that took place during the last Wurm glaciation. He encountered the Mousterian culture that was by no means rejected. However, Neanderthal man himself disappeared within a few thousand years. In Spain, Neanderthal man disappeared 30,000 years ago and Neanderthals were living in Croatia 28,000 years ago, making highly plausible the hypothesis that a mingling of cultures and biology (i.e. interbreeding) occurred between them and the newly arrived sapiens populations. The disappearance of Neanderthal could thus be due to a dilution of his genes, due to interbreeding. The breeding of modern humans with another species, especially if it is as similar-looking as Neanderthal, is not inconceivable since humans readily copulate with goats, donkeys, and Jupiter took the appearance of a swan to copulate with Leda (fig.12.5), although he also cared for the favors of the young boy Ganymede! I saw a movie showing a wild female gorilla fond of a white adult sapiens. The copulations with Neanderthal would have been sterile or, if there were offspring, the hybrids could very well themselves have been sterile, with a rapid elimination of the less developed species.

A shift of emphasis towards the frontal lobe achieved by modern Homo sapiens sapiens may have been the secret to the achievements of the latter. This reshaping of the skull to accommodate an expansion in the key frontal and temporal lobes of the brain was produced by small evolutionary adjustments in a few bones along the base of the skull. The rise of modern humans, possibly due to only a handful of genetic changes with major developmental consequences, may have been an abrupt event. There is however little evidence for dramatic changes in behavior until long after the appearance of modern anatomy. The shift of emphasis toward the frontal lobe, without necessarily implying an increase relative to other parts, was probably an obligate corollary of the development of the larynx, needed for better verbal communication. The improvement in verbal communication played a decisive role for selection when the human culture reached a stage where the usefulness of language overshadowed the inconveniences.

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