(p. A16) Neanderthals might be getting a bad rap. In the movie “Night at the Museum,” when the exhibits come to life after sundown, the Neanderthals are depicted as dimwitted cave men who grunt and bash rocks together in futile attempts to generate a flame. When Ben Stiller’s night-guard character gives them a lighter, one promptly sets himself on fire.
Popular culture has often depicted our Neanderthal cousins much like these museum cave men—also-rans and unsophisticated brutes whose nomadic-hunter lifestyle precluded them from social gatherings and might have contributed to their demise.
But the past decade or so has changed our understanding of Neanderthals. A growing body of research shows these extinct relatives—who overlapped in time and space with anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens—were similar to us in many ways. Recent studies suggest Neanderthals altered the landscape around them with fire and were sophisticated hunters who could exploit a variety of prey in groups larger than paleoanthropologists once thought.
Studies show the species used fire to cook, constructed tools to manipulate meat and stone, built structures and made jewelry. They swam and dove for shells, which they used as tools and beads, and distilled birch bark to make tar. Neanderthals decorated and engraved bones and used red ochre—a natural clay pigment—to alter surfaces.
“The more we learn about Neanderthals, the more similar they look to us behaviorally,” said Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London.
For the full story, see:
Aylin Woodward. “Scientific Discoveries Elevate the Minds and Skills of Neanderthals.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 11, 2023): A16.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 10, 2023, and has the title “Neanderthals and Us: We’re More Alike Than Once Thought.” The wording in the last sentence quoted above is from the print version, rather than the shorter online version, of the sentence.)