This just in from the arena of paleoanthropology: Who’re You Calling a Neanderthal? Excerpt:
The “Neanderthals are inferior” attitude traces back to their earliest descriptions in the mid-1800s when the first Neanderthal was labeled as “freak” or an “idiot” or “incapable of moral and religious conception.” For many, the discoveries after 1865 confirmed these labels. Even the majority of human paleontologists supported this view.
But in the last 10 years there has been a major reassessment of the Neanderthals, and it turns out they share a lot of the behavior and capabilities of people in Europe today. This revolution in the way academics think about Neanderthals arises from discoveries in archeology, re-evaluations of their anatomy and revelations about their genetic makeup.
It’s easy to think that primitive people were stupid, simply because they were primitive. You see a variation of that attitude today in all too many people of urban and suburban attitude who decry “stupid rednecks” because rural people talk funny and like to hunt and fish.
But just as running a farm requires a great deal of planning, knowledge of crops and weather, capability with equipment and so on, survival in a howling Ice Age wilderness required a lot of brain power. The Neandertal (the correct spelling is actually -tal) had that savvy and more. They survived not just one but several ice ages, occupied Europe from Spain to the Levant, and hung around for over 300,000 years. By comparison, our own species of human has been around for about 140,000 years.
What’s more, while our ancestors seem to have been jack-of-all-trades generalists, hunting and gathering everything available, the Neandertal were big-game hunters. They were known to have hunted mammoth, the biggest creature extant in their Ice Age environs, and to have subsisted almost entirely on meat.
Granted our own generalist approach proved the successful one in the end, but remnants of the Neandertal hang on even now – if you are of northern European ancestry, roughly 4% of your genetic material is likely Neandertal.
Keep that in mind next time you’re fishing for an insult.